San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A Look at the New Recycling Law

Costa Rica generates 4,500 tons of solid waste per day, 30 percent of which ends up in streets, vacant lots, waterways and other public locations.

But the country’s new Integrated Waste Management Law seeks to reduce both of these figures by holding generators responsible for the waste they produce, and mandating that municipalities better manage their trash and reuse recyclable material.

With Health Ministry officials at the helm, the new law establishes a national recycling plan that dictates regulations for disposing of different types of materials.

These regulations will be put into place over the next 10 years.

Under the national plan, each municipality is charged with creating the most suitable waste management strategies for their township. Municipal heads must “guarantee selective waste collection services” that emphasize the separation of waste from recyclable items and ensure proper treatment of non-recyclable materials.

During the next decade, municipalities must eliminate trash dumps filled with heaps of untreated waste and start investing in collection centers for recyclable items and waste treatment centers.

Since some municipalities lack the resources to invest in such centers and their attendant infrastructure, the law’s drafters believe that the new regulations will help attract private investment.

“One of the aims of the plan is to create new businesses and new jobs by properly treating waste,” said Rolando Castro, an attorney who helped write the bill (TT, April 24, 2009).

The law mandates that municipalities reach agreements with local small businesses, cooperatives or community organizations to assist in the trash management process and help establish collection centers.

Municipalities must also implement measures to clean waterways and public spaces and launch public education campaigns to keep these areas clean, under to the new law.


Waste Law Funding


The Integrated Waste Management Law will create a fund that will be financed in part by the government’s annual budget for waste treatment.

The fund will also seek donations from individuals and organizations. Fund managers will apply for international loans and use monies generated from pollution fines to pay them back.

Municipalities and other public institutions will also be required to include waste management plans in their annual budgets.


Infractions and Sanctions


The new law sanctions violators based on the seriousness of their offense. Minor offenses include throwing trash on the street and other public locations or removing trash or recycling items from municipal receptacles.

More serious violations include burning trash in unauthorized locations, such as backyards, or transporting hazardous waste without permission from the Health Ministry. Mixing hazardous waste with ordinary waste and depositing large amounts of trash outside of designated dump sites are also punishable under the new law.

Sanctions for these violations will be determined based on the income of the violator, and may include additional fines for environmental damages imposed by the Environmental Tribunal, the administrative court of the Environment Ministry.


Waste Generators to Separate Trash


Any individual, company or public institution that produces waste will be required to separate and classify it before handing it over to the municipality.

This requirement, as well as the sanctions for disobeying it, will take effect once municipalities have established their waste management plans.

And any person or entity that generates hazardous waste, such as electronics or chemicals, will be responsible for the environmental or health damage it may cause as long as it exists. This means, for example, that cell phone manufacturers will be accountable for any damage caused by their products, no matter whose hands they are in.

“The best way to eliminate trash is to not produce it,” Castro said.

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