Editorial: It’s Time to Talk Trash

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The problem of what to do with garbage in Nicoya and Nosara has been on the table for years, with orders to close both garbage dumps, but it is coming to a head now and it is time for a serious examination of municipal efforts to mitigate the problem.

As for the Nosara garbage dump, so far the municipality has ignored it, in part because they can’t afford to foot the bill for two technical closures at the same time and in part because the land isn’t registered to the Municipality. But the situation can’t continue this way since, in October, the Administrative Environmental Court issued a final order for it to be closed.

Members of the community of Nosara have stepped up to the plate to begin to address the garbage problem. To reduce the amount of garbage going to the dump, the community itself raised funds to build a recycling center, which just opened in October. In addition, the Nosara Recycling Association has been working on a plan to remove the garbage from the Nosara dump.

As for Nicoya’s dump, let’s review this debacle: Since 2004, the municipality received constant orders from the Ministry of Health to close the dump, even placing closure seals at the dump in 2008 and again in 2010, but the former mayors managed to keep depositing trash there. In December of 2011, the municipality finally began the technical closure of the Nicoya dump, investing 80 million colones ($160,000) so far. However, the closure lacked the approval of the Ministry of Health. The regional director for the Ministry of Health, Zinnia Cordero, indicated to The Voice that the technical closure proposal was presented on September 26, 2012 but it was not approved because the proposal didn’t meet current and applicable requirements. Nonetheless, the dump is closed, fenced in and the garbage was buried with several layers of dirt.

Since then, the garbage collected in Nicoya and Samara has been trucked over to Santa Cruz. That’s no problem for the Municipality of Santa Cruz. Their sanitary landfill was designed with capacity to receive garbage from the cantons of Nicoya and Carrillo too, and Nicoya pays them 15,000 ($30) colones per ton to receive it. According to information from Santa Cruz’s environmental department, in June of 2013, they received 397 tons of garbage from Nicoya, which amounts to 5,955,000 colones ($11,910) that could have been invested otherwise.

Speaking of poor use of municipal funds, the purchase of land for a new landfill is a prime example.  The 15 hectares of land bought in 2009 under the administration of former mayor Eduardo Gutierrez without the proper environmental studies at an inflated price of 165 million colones ($330,000) is unusable for that purpose since the woodland includes two creeks and a spring that cannot be contaminated. The purchase raises serious questions, since an investigation by Telenoticias Channel 7 revealed that the land was originally valued at just 60 million colones ($120,000).

Trying to make use of this unusable land, current mayor Marco Jimenez told The Voice that it will be turned into an environmental park, which is an interesting idea but means investing another yet unknown sum of money without solving the initial problem of finding a permanent home for Nicoya’s garbage. To that end, the mayor told The Voice that they are considering a recent proposal to buy 6 hectares right next to the current dump to solve the problem “Nicoyan style.”  

On a positive note, Nicoya has reached an agreement with Coopeguanacaste R.L., along with the cantons of Liberia and Carrillo, to use garbage to generate electrical energy. In addition, Nicoya deserves praise for its recycling efforts. In May of 2011, the municipality opened a recycling center to reduce the amount of trash being sent to the dump, which averaged 30 tons a day between garbage collected in Nicoya and in Samara. With an investment of 70 million colones ($140,000), they have been able to reuse 350 metric tons of waste.

In fact, according to data from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), in 2012 the canton ranked second in Guanacaste for recycling, and in 2013 Nicoya placed first nationally in fulfilling goals.

Intelligent projects that recycle or reuse waste in productive manners are good ways to reduce the amount of garbage being sent to landfills, and the Municipality is making progress on that front, but they are completely stalled on purchasing land for a new landfill. Hopefully whatever future investments are made will be made responsibly, making good use of public funds.