So Much Trash – And Nowhere to Put It

December 23, 2005

THE country’s inability to appropriately manage its solid waste became more visible this year as trash piled up in communities around the country, residents fought to keep proposed landfills out of their backyards, garbage workers went on strike and discussion continued on how long the aging Río Azul landfill east of the capital could remain open.

 

A corruption scandal that implicated the mayor of San José and the city’s private landfill operator, EBI de Costa Rica, also helped keep the garbage issue in the limelight.

 

In January, angry residents in communities on both coasts expressed disgust at the sight and smell of so much garbage piling up in their areas, and called for local governments to do something about it. Residents of Ciudad Colón, southwest of San José, criticized a proposed landfill approximately 15 km west of town.

 

Developers said the project, Jateo Industrial Park, would offer a long-term solution to the trash problems that have plagued the country, but opponents remained unconvinced.

 

In July, the Mora Municipal Council denied a permit to Jateo developers, saying they had failed to comply with certain legal requirements. Council President Marvin Rojas said developers can request permission again once they fulfill those obligations.

 

Meanwhile, residents of Rosario, northwest of San José near Naranjo, spoke out against a proposed municipal landfill in a former rock quarry above the Río Colorado. The new landfill is meant to replace an existing municipal landfill the Public Health Ministry ordered shut down.

 

Participants in the first Recycling Symposium and Exposition in Costa Rica discussed ways to improve communities’ recycling efforts. Conference organizers said 57% of the country’s 81 municipalities, which by law are responsible for trash collection, do not dispose of their garbage adequately.

 

In July, the company that runs the capital’s only garbage disposal site, the destination of more than 430 metric tons of trash collected daily from the streets of San José, said it planned to cease operations in September – as many as 15 years ahead of schedule – if the government didn’t allow it to move forward with another landfill project. EBI’s proposed landfill, in Aserrí, south of San José, is meant to be an alternative resting place for the more than 700 metric tons of garbage being sent to the state-owned Río Azul in Cartago, east of the capital, by a dozen different municipal governments.

 

EBI and city officials both denied the company’s threat to abort operations had anything to do with corruption allegations that appeared the week before in the daily La Nación. The newspaper published allegations that San José Mayor Johnny Araya and eight other city officials were paid a total of $112,800 in connection with EBI’s exclusive multimillion-dollar contract to dispose of the city’s trash. The officials and EBI managers denied the allegations. Araya, who rejected calls that he step down from his post until prosecutors finish investigating the allegations, denied he had accepted any money in connection with the contract.

 

Araya told The Tico Times his political

enemies, connected to potential mayoral

candidates for the 2006 elections, were

behind the accusations. In August, he testified

before a legislative commission and

said the allegations, which the Prosecutor’s

Office is investigating, are based

on a false document.

 

Around that time, EBI officials said

they had discarded the idea of shutting

down. Meanwhile, the company’s Aserrí

landfill project, under review by the government,

generated fierce opposition from

some area residents.

 

The operators of the 30-year-old, overflowing Río Azul dump, which was supposed to close in September, requested an extension to keep accepting trash at the controversial site for 18 more months to help fund its technical closure. By year’s end, an extension had been granted.

 

In late August, 13 garbage collectors from Tibás, north of San José, ended a five-day hunger strike after the municipality agreed to give them and 27 other garbage workers their jobs back. They had been fired for participating in a 15-day strike in July, when they claimed the municipality was not providing them with the tools they needed to do their job.

 

Concerned about an ongoing garbage problem in their area, some hotel and restaurant owners in the Osa Peninsula, in the country’s Southern Zone, decided to boycott Coca-Cola after the beverage distributor announced that the returnable glass bottles it shipped there would be replaced with disposable plastic ones. Northern Pacific residents in Nosara followed suit in December. Coca-Cola representatives said they would help with community recycling efforts.

 

Nationwide, the lack of a long-term policy for solid waste management – more than two decades after the government declared the problem of trash disposal a national emergency – thrust the country toward a crisis situation, according to Juan José Echeverría, head of the Institute for Municipal Development (IFAM), which represents the country’s municipalities. He said political will is lacking to find a real solution to the garbage problem.

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