San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

National University Recycles Its Own

Recycling is far from a new idea, but in Costa Rica, institutional and municipal plans employing the old “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” adage are as fresh as a newly-opened ream of recycled paper.

Collection centers are hard to come by in most municipalities, and many citizens don’t even know they exist.

But Costa Rica’s National University (UNA) has found a remedy: Build your own.

UNA built its collection center in 2005 as part of the university’s Sustainable Campus program. Since then, the institution has recycled approximately 3.15 tons of material per month, and a total of 25,375 kilograms in 2008.

As part of the recycling plan, a UNAowned collection truck visits all the buildings – each of which has its own recycling containers – on both of the school’s campuses.

One of the common problems with recycling is high transportation costs, but having its own truck and a center nearby helps ease the pressure of expenditures.

While the proximity of the collection center allows for easy and affordable management, Daniela García, the UNA program coordinator, said the project wouldn’t go anywhere without education.

“We maintain close contact with students and faculty to make sure they know what to recycle and where to recycle it,” she said.

García is constantly organizing free classes for university and community members to learn about recycling and its benefits. In 2008, the program provided classes to more than 1,000 participants and Garcia’s calendar is chalked full with groups of up to 30 people for the upcoming months.

García’s office also pays frequent visits to university residence halls to keep the school’s students up-to-date. So far this year, the office has completed 12 free classes for UNA’s resident students and is planning more.

Deciding which materials to recycle and which to throw away can be a difficult decision, since recyclable items come in many different forms. At UNA, García said the idea is “to make it as easy as possible.”

Each building has one recycling bin for all types of paper and another for all types of liquid containers. The bags from the bins are sorted further once they arrive at the collection center, which García said is a “great advantage to having a campus collection center.”

In the era of Costa Rica’s new-waste Management Plan (PRESOL), more and more institutions and municipalities are trying to implement successful waste management plans, and everyone is learning from everyone else.

On Wednesday morning, García was able to take a break from one of UNA’s recycling workshops and offer her own piece of advice to would-be recyclers.

“Have the desire to do it. Stay committed to an environmental and recycling plan, and organize it.”

–Mike McDonald


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