Last Tuesday, with much anticipation, we visited a Grupo WPP landfill, in the Cartago province. Solid waste management, or trash disposal, is a serious problem in Costa Rica, especially since the population and businesses of the country seem to be growing faster than the country’s infrastructure can supports them. In our meeting at the Ministry of Health on Monday, solid waste management was cited to be one of the biggest problems facing Costa Ricans. For this reason, our group was both looking forward to, and dreading, our visit to the landfill.
The day we arrived was a cloudy, cold and rainy day. We were met at the gate by a WPP employee who walked us down to the site. While it was muddy, the site itself was much cleaner than we expected, with no visible trash.
Trucks come into the landfill from each canton (or county) in Cartago daily. They are weighed upon entering and again upon leaving, and the canton is charged by weight for the trash they deposit. We were shocked that trash disposal is so inexpensive, only a few dollars for each ton. The solid waste is compacted, with each ton pushed into roughly a 3 ft cube, and then buried and covered with dirt. After the solid waste is buried, methane gas is collected, and piped to the surface, where it is burned immediately, to reduce the smells and remove the health hazard. Runoff water is also collected, and treated, before being returned to the rivers.
After a landfill is closed, the site continues to be supervised and treated for 15 years, until it is eventually reclaimed as parkland. Unfortunately, we were not able to take pictures, as WPP was worried that other companies would steal their technology.
While the system in place was impressive, and well managed, there are still areas for growth in solid waste management in Costa Rica. Zoning laws prohibit homes within 50 feet of a landfill, which means impoverished neighborhoods like La Carpio may have landfills literally on their doorstep. Additionally, solid waste management remains unregulated in Costa Rica, leading dumps which pose a variety of health and environmental hazards to the population.
-Kristin Danilczyk & Helena Rocha