San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Improper Waste Disposal Is Vexing the Nation

The Guanacaste Tourism Chamber (CATURGUA) announced that only two of Guanacaste s 11 municipalities are operating adequate landfills, an infrastructure problem threatening to plague the tourism-heavy economy of this northwestern province.

This is a national problem, said Enrique Jiménez, the Health Ministry s Guanacaste director, whose department has been responsible for handing down landfill closure rulings from the Environment Tribunal.

The effects of such actions are not obvious. Urban trash collection routes continue. Campesinos burn and bury their trash onsite, a disposal method they have been practicing for generations. Construction waste is often dumped in less than conspicuous lots and quickly forgotten.

But these are hardly solutions, especially in the tropical heat of a country that boasts eco-friendly tourism. Ultimately, say local representatives, it is the municipalities responsibility to come up with trash disposal answers.

Liberia is the only canton in Guanacaste that is solving the problem once and for all, said Augusto Otárola, environmental director of the Liberia municipality.

After a three-year, cross-bureaucratic permitting process, Liberia expects to begin construction on a mechanized landfill in November, which Otárola estimates will solve the canton s disposal problems for the next 15 years.

In recognition of the municipality s forward progress, the Health Ministry reopened the previously unfit landfill this year. Carrillo, the canton s southern neighbor, dumps its trash there.

We do not have any plans to improve our landfills, said Cristian Medina, director of finance for the municipality of Carrillo.

We will be focusing more on bigger projects, like highways and roads. Otárola confirmed that the new disposal center in Liberia would be big enough to process Carrillo s garbage, although it will not solve the disposal problems of the rest of the province.

Mario Moreira, the director of finance at the municipality of Santa Cruz, said his canton has already committed ¢84 million (about $153,000) toward a disposal project, although he could not specify how far along the project is in the lengthy permitting process.

Luciano Machado runs Ecosoluciones S.A., a company that develops trash management plans for businesses ranging from hotels to farms. Our clients either have no place to dump their trash or are environmentally conscious, he said.

In December 2006, Ocotal Beach Resort hired him. He discovered that about 80 percent of the resort s waste was recyclable material.

He established a recycling sorting center and trained employees, which helped the hotel earn the Certificate of Sustainable Tourism (CST). Today, the sorting center also serves as a public recycling drop-off point.

It is very difficult to find companies to recycle with in Guanacaste, said Tanya Buxton, who spearheaded the project for the resort. She sends plastic and cans to La Florida Bebidas, a beverage production company with a base in Liberia, but paper products are sent to San José, some five hours away.

The new landfill in Liberia will not include a recycling center, although the municipality does run a recycling sorting center, where plastic and glass is compacted and sold primarily to Central American glass producer Vicesa, La Florida Bebidas and Coca-Cola.

We really need to start educating the public and children who live here, said Buxton, who is actively involved in various community outreach programs. There are still many people who remember reading signs on the buses that said, To help keep the bus clean, please throw your trash out the window.


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