New York students beginning their Nosara recycling center

A group of seven students and a professor from the New York Institute of Technology are spearheading a summer-long project to build a recycling facility for the small, Pacific coast community of Nosara.

Starting as an architectural design competition for institute students last November, the project turned into a semester-long course where they planned out the logistics of building the center. Many will come to Costa Rica this summer to help make the center a reality.

Last weekend, the numerous local organizations raised money for the center and put on a concert at a local bar featuring a band called Drummers, hoping to raise awareness the need for Nosara community-members to recycle.

Tobias Holler, architect and assistant professor at New York Institute of Technology, came up with the idea of enlisting students to collaborate with the Nosara community to build the facility and has been leading the U.S. side of the effort ever since.

“Ever since I started teaching, I was thinking about a project that could involve my students, that I could I bring my students here and do a project for the community,” said Holler.

Nosara, a name that generally refers to the region that includes several beach communities, is a remote town on the Pacific side of the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste province.

Despite decades of pleading to the government of Nicoya canton, the Guanacaste province, and the nation, there are no paved roads leading into Nosara, and the dirt roads easily fall into disrepair after heavy rains.

Lacking this basic piece of infrastructure, the government cannot easily provide normal services, such as waste disposal and emergency responses, to the communities of Nosara,

“It’s a total abandonment,” said Marco Johanning, owner of the Nosara Spanish Institute and a member of Sustainable Nosara. “The biggest contributor of taxes for the district of Nicoya is Nosara, and we’re abandoned, and we’re tired of it.”

In some cases the government has allowed Nosara to set up self-regulation systems, such as the community being allowed to distribute its own water.

In other cases the nearby towns took initiative themselves, and set up a communal dump and a volunteer fire department.

However, without regulation many community members put little effort into separating materials that can be recycled from regular trash. That puts too much garbage at a dump that was only meant to be a short-term fix until the government took control of garbage disposal.
“We don’t want it here,” said Johanning. “It’s threatening our aquifer.”

Again lacking support from upper levels of government, local organizations including the Nosara Civic Association, the Asociación de Desechos and Reciclaje de Nosara, teamed up with a local architecture firm and Holler to set up a more sustainable system for disposing of trash.

Holler had been to Nosara several times before starting the project and said he saw a variety of ways to give his students practical experience related to architecture.

He asked the civic association if his students could design and build something that would benefit the community, and the group requested they set up the recycling center.

“With architecture, it’s one side when you’re in school sitting on the computer, doing your drawings, but it’s a whole different side when you see the construction and you actually see what the contractors go through,” said Talha Kirmani, a student on the project and recent institute graduate.

About 15 teams of students submitted their own designs of what the recycling center should look like. They were put to a public vote on Facebook.

The top four teams, 12 students, came to Nosara from New York to present their design and get feedback from the community, and before the month was over Holler was leading a class to plan and organize the project, eventually recruiting members of the other teams to help build the center.

The first set of seven students arrived in Nosara July 2. For the rest of the summer at least 10 students at a time will be staying in the community while working on constructing the project.

Janielle Calnick says that the preliminary set-up work has been frustratingly sluggish compared to how quickly it would go in the United States. They have been building temporary structures like a toilet and a shed for supplies.

“It’s been kind of slow, as in everything has to be organized as far as the materials and getting an account open at the local hardware store and all of that stuff is like a process here, whereas in the States it would almost be 1-2-3, but here it’s been taking longer,” she said.

Although most of the first group of students will leave this week, they showed excitement to finally get a start on the recycling center itself this week and leave a permanent mark on the project. Even with 35 students working on the center through July and August, construction on the facility is expected to continue on into the beginning of next year.

“When we leave at the end of August, there’ll be other local volunteers and contractors who will finish the project,” said Holler. “Depending on how fast they work, we may actually come back for Christmas break.”

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