San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Group Fights Dengue, Solid Waste

It may be “our Earth,” but some of us take better care of it than others. Terra Nostra (“our Earth” in Latin), an environmental organization headquartered in the western suburb of San Rafael de Escazú, is strengthening its efforts to reduce solid waste and combat the spread of disease by organizing dengue sweeps across the country and promoting canvas shopping bags instead of plastic.

Since 2002, Terra Nostra has organized a solid waste education and coastal clean-up program in partnership with local governments, community groups, schools, volunteers and private companies. In the name of “social and environmental corporate responsibility,” Terra Nostra formed a partnership with Florida Bebidas, the San Josébased juice, beer and water bottling company that sponsors the dengue sweeps and collects plastic bottles for its recycling program.

In partnership with the Health Ministry, the Social Security System (Caja) and local municipalities, the volunteer efforts will cover the 20 cantons deemed most vulnerable to dengue according to statistics gathered by the ministry. The sweeps started in January and will continue almost every weekend until the end of May, in preparation for the rainy season and the height of dengue outbreaks.

Last month, Terra Nostra dispatched brigades of eight to 10 volunteers throughout the La Cruz canton in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, the region second hardest hit by the mosquito-borne virus in 2007.

As a car mounted with loudspeakers announced its mission from the street, about 150 volunteers in small brigades walked from residence to residence, collecting garbage from homes, properties and roadsides. They also distributed information about how to prevent dengue fever. By eliminating any type of structure that holds standing water, they reduce possible breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that spread dengue fever. The volunteers then sorted the garbage into recyclable and non-recyclable items, actively learning about proper solid waste management.

Since it was founded in 2000, Terra Nostra has focused on solid waste management and protection of water resources. Although recycling and reusing is important, Terra Nostra emphasizes that the solution to the problem of solid waste management includes reducing the amount of waste to begin with. A plastic bag may take between a hundred to a thousand years to decompose, all the while suffocating marine wildlife, clogging rivers, collecting on roadsides and taking up space in overflowing landfills.

“A trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year,” Terra Nostra President Nydia Rodríguez said.“Most of them end up in our rivers and oceans.”

As an alternative to the quickly used yet long-lived plastic norm, Terra Nostra created a reusable canvas shopping bag bearing a simple environmental message in Spanish: “Reduce, reuse, recycle: for a better planet.”

The organization hopes to make the bag and its message accessible to shoppers in their local supermarkets.

Rodríguez hopes the bag will encourage consumers to reject the use of unnecessary plastic bags and reduce their waste on an individual level.

“Our greatest interest is to give more information to the people … to change their attitudes about disposable (items) and to have a more responsible attitude about consumption, day by day creating a more conscious society,” she said.

The 37-by-46-centimeter canvas bags can be purchased through Terra Nostra for ¢4,000 ($8). All proceeds benefit the organization’s environmental education programs in solid waste management and protection of water resources.

For more information about Terra Nostra, call 2228-4317 or visit The next dengue sweeps will take place March 30 in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, and in the Pacific port city of Puntarenas; and April 6 in the Pacific-slope town of Esparza and in Abangares, Guanacaste.


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