Santo Domingo recycling program scores a limited success

A Santo Domingo municipal employee works at the Asociacion Domingeña de Gestion Ambiental where recycling is a profitable venture.

A voluntary recycling project where residents can drop their cans, bottles, and paper products is running in Santo Domingo de Heredia and is capturing a substantial share of the recyclables in the municipality’s solid waste.

For the month of May, 35 tons of material were removed from the waste stream, according to figures provided by project coordinator Guillermo Umaña. The total value of the materials sold on to various middlemen and larger recycling projects was 1.9 million colons, roughly enough to cover the salaries of the five people working to sort the recyclables.

This also saves the municipality about one day’s worth of tipping fees at the La Carpio landfill. At 8,000 colons per ton, that would be another 280,000 colons per month. Some fuel to truck that garbage can also be subtracted from overall costs.

A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers Mall trash bins are not very clear.

A study in 2005 found that organics make up the majority of Santo Domingo’s domestic waste at 69 percent by weight. Other non-recyclables total about 17 percent, then white paper, newspaper, boxboard, and corrugated cardboard about 2 percent each. Recyclable categories including steel, HDPE plastic, PET plastic, glass, and tetra/waxed cardboard registered 1 percent each. Small amounts of aluminum complete the useful component.

This was for strictly residential waste. Commercial pickup includes more white paper and corrugated, according to studies elsewhere The total amount of recyclables in Santo Domingo’s waste flow would be about 14 percent. At 35 tons of waste collected each work day, that is about 100-110 tons of recyclables per month. Five tons of the total collected at the center in May was unrecyclable plastic which is taken away by the cement company Holcim for fuel in its kiln in Cartago with no compensation. Thirty tons still means 25 to 30 percent of the total recyclables produced in Santo Domingo are captured by the project.

This is a large amount considering that recycling is a new concept to most Costa Ricans.

The Paseo de las Flores mall in Heredia also has set up a recycling program consisting of pairs of labeled bins throughout the mall and in the food court. Operations manager Gustavo Ugalde indicated that cooperation on the part of visitors is very low, and ordinary trash ends up in both sides. In the case of the areas away from restaurants, this is a minor problem as the recyclable bottles, cans, and cups can be quickly sorted.

Where food scraps are a major part of the waste flow, the situation is more complicated. In the food court (17 locations) a relatively small number of customers actually bus their tables, so the cleaning staff can sort the recyclables. Since most paper gets wet or contaminated by food, the main criteria for usable recyclables is that it be “uncontaminated” as a sign on the bins states. This is not too clear. “Customers don’t even look” said cleaning manager Carlos Núñez, as a teenager dumped a tray of hamburger wrappers into the recycling bin.

Ultimately, the staff separates waxed cups, plastic bottles, and a small number of aluminum cans which become a source of income for the mall’s waste disposal contractor, along with used cooking oil for biodiesel. Other businesses produce some paper. Cardboard recycling was done previous to this arrangement as a fund-raiser for the mall employees’ solidarity association. Overall, the mall produces about seven tons of waste per day not counting the cardboard, with the food court producing about 60 percent of that, said Ugalde. The Mas x Menos supermarket at the mall has its own pickup service, which would also include cardboard recycling. Removal of recyclables as per the present system reduces the total garbage output of the mall very little.

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