Over the past 20 years many parts of Costa Rica have undergone a dramatic transformation from fishing and farming economies to popular international tourism destinations. The shift has been rapid and unplanned, resulting in strains on local infrastructure. One branch of public services most affected has been solid waste disposal. Waste management is a particularly serious issue in beach towns where trash makes its way to the sea. The most surprising aspect of this situation is that this solid waste management challenge erodes not only the environmental and human health of the area, it also discourages the surf and sand tourism that provide many local livelihoods. Creating a effective recycling system has the potential to greatly reduce the amount of trash that enters the environment and relieve the dysfunctional municipal trash system.
This past spring semester, student researchers from the SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies, working in partnership with the local NGO Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper, surveyed residents and businesses in Santa Teresa and Malpaís about their current practices and opinions on the implementation of an improved recycling system. This site was chosen because increased tourism and foreign residency has increased the volume of waste significantly. However, the transitory nature of the population has inhibited the long-term implementation of an effective recycling program. Community members that are interested in addressing this issue often become discouraged because key players move and it is difficult to educate short-term residents on proper practices. The situation has only deteriorated since the closest recycling center has closed and the current dump site has been condemned, meaning all waste must now be transported to another town over an hour away.
For this study, 176 surveys on waste materials and willingness and motivation to recycle were gathered from various types of businesses and groups of residents. Interviews were also conducted to gather what motivates them to recycle and their opinions on the best recycling solutions. Of residents surveyed, 84% stated that recycling should be a community-led project and 41% of local businesses stated that they would help with a community recycling program. Many people would like to make legal demands forcing the municipality to address waste issues but since that will necessitate concerted pressure, the community should first organize to implement a functioning system that meets its needs, then use that organization to demand more concrete solutions from the local government.
When asked if they would be willing to participate in recycling in the future, 71% of all residents said yes. However, opinions on what method would be best was almost evenly divided between truck pick up, a localized drop off center, and neighborhood recycling collection points, suggesting that a combination of these methods could work best.
Responses of residents of Malpaís and Santa Teresa on what would be most convenient for their participation in a recycling program.
Local businesses that stated a willingness to participate in recycling efforts could install and collect materials from recycling bins on front of their business. Business owners could also demand that distributors take all packing materials back with them, so that bottles and cardboard waste never enters the local system. An effort can also be made to improve the local garbage collector’s recycling facilities so that he can process more materials and make collection more profitable.
The government’s current inability to meet its waste management obligation indicates that recycling solutions must be created by the community. Creating a recycling program has the added benefit of reducing the amount of solid waste sent to landfills. Though there are many challenges, this study demonstrates that there is widespread willingness to participate in recycling and take on leadership roles in that process. This is an opportunity for members to voice their opinions and help create the system that serves the entire population and can adapt to change. It is our hope that the data we have provided can be used to develop an effective waste management strategy that will garner high community participation.