Although the information in this post can be applied or used as inspiration for many individuals or communities, this blog post is being created to specifically address the current dump closure and lack of trash services for all areas affected by the Cobano municipality in the Southern Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica.
Taking responsibility for our @$%#
What if you woke up one morning to find out that there was no longer a dump and all trash services were cancelled? Would you go into a healthy state of "emergency mode" thinking? My family already has a fairly good system in place. We have bins for recyclables, compost, ecobrick materials (I'll explain later), and then last but not least, landfill trash. Fortunately for us, since we already have an extensive sorting system, we have very little that needs to ever find its way to the dump. Yet regardless of our efforts, panic still took over me when I heard the news. Immediately I went into thinking, what are we not looking at? How do we use less?
WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
Beyond moral obligations to each other and respect for the Earth, we live in a tourist town. No one wants to visit a place that reeks of trash, is infested with opportunistic rats, and harbors mosquitoes waiting to give them Dengue. If business dries up, what will you do?
HOW DO WE SOLVE THIS?
Here's what I think the priorities are while services are still halted:
- Make game plans for reducing waste, sorting waste, identifying opportunities for waste
- Cut back on unnecessary purchases
- Ask for no straws with drinks, refuse plastic bags, and avoid food to-go situations
- Stop giving away free one time use plastics of any kind
- Bring batteries to Gallo
- Attend a Compost Club meeting or other waste management workshop
- Attend community meetings about this issue
LONGER TERM STRATEGIES
First, we need a conceptual framework. Here you go, in "order":
Rethink. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
Second, we need to realize there is no "away". It goes somewhere, and sometimes "somewhere" fills up. We might find ourselves in this situation again in the future, or the children of this area will.
To reduce waste, we need to become more mindful. When we find ourselves using a product in the normal routine of our lives, we can ask some helpful leading questions. Can I do this better? Meaning, Can I use less? Is what I am doing truly necessary at all?
When we are shopping for any item we can ask similar questions
Is this product necessary? Can I live without it?
If it is "necessary", we can look at the packaging and ask if we can buy an option of that product that is somehow more environmentally friendly. Meaning, can we buy something with no or little packaging? If there is packaging ask yourself, can it be recycled?
Some things will seem like we need them and will not be the best eco-option. It's okay as long as we are trying to reduce these kinds of purchases. It takes awhile to create new habits.
Try to reuse products as much as possible. If you are tired of something and it's not melting or broken, ask if it can be reused by someone else or repurposed into something else. Sorting items into a pile for the recycling plant should be our second to last option.
Modern society has been built around plastics. We will have a hard time avoiding them completely but what we should strive to do is reduce our usage of them because plastic is toxic and the myriad of bottles, bags, straws, and containers add up quickly. It would serve us well to create a network of people passionate about solving the waste crisis, and specifically dedicated to how we recycle plastics, in our community.
Start looking at your waste and identifying where it should go. You might need new containers. A simple system would be:
- Organic Waste
A more sophisticated system would look like:
- Organic Waste
- Recycling (plastics, glass, aluminum and cardboard)
- Burn Papers
- Ecobricking plastics
Switch to reusables
What do you use that is a one time use item for either yourself or in your business? Try to make the switch to something reusable. Instead of paper napkins, invest in reusable, washable ones. Same for cups, plates, etc.
Let's face it, you could probably use less of more things than you know. Start looking at what you use for both household and also personal care products. For instance, soap. Many soaps people buy today have harsh synthetic chemicals in them anyway that are not good for your skin or the environment. Overall we have noticed that people go through a lot of soap here. Act as if it is a scarce resource. Those plastic containers add up. Ask yourself constantly if you can or how you can use less.
Reducing Paper Waste
Face it, you can probably use less. Whether you are a person or a business, try to find a more digital solution. Toilet paper, in my opinion should be burned safely. I am not advocating the burning of trash which is toxic because it's often mixed with plastics, no. I am suggesting that if it is possible, to separate toilet paper completely and burn it in a safe fire pit we can reduce a lot of our own personal trash. If you want to get fancy, you can look into investing into a bidet device or toilet.
Using less plastic bags
This is not simply about carrying around a reusable bag to the market, which yes, you should do. No this is also about identifying your usage of "trash bags". Do you need to line your receptacles with a trash bag at all? Make an effort to clean them out every once in awhile instead. If you are a hotel, perhaps institute a policy of changing the receptacles only when full.
You may know about this already. People making schools, benches, public community centers from plastic bottles and stuffing them firmly with other non-recyclable trash. Many schools have been built this way in Nicaragua from an organization called Hug It Forward. Ecobricking is an excellent way to reduce trash in our community. Although it is ideal to make ecobricks with proper technique if we want to build with what we have created, we can also reduce our trash significantly even if we are not making them perfectly. A lot of trash can be stuffed into a bottle compactly. It would make our future dumps much neater even if they ended up in landfill. In other countries around the world, ecobricking has helped bring communities together to make their environment cleaner, provide inspiration and a material that can be used to make places of public benefit.
A new compost club has been created in Santa Teresa. Contact the Water Keepers to find out more. Although everyone can divert their food waste either into the jungle or a separate receptacle, not everyone will be able to do the full, true, composting process. This will be due to lack of property space, ownership issues, lack of know how, or will. In an ideal world, our community would come together and identify the people that have space and will to this process and would be able to accept food waste from some of their neighbors. Although throwing food into the jungle might seem natural, if there is too much food it will rot, stink, and attract wild animals and rats. We need to be mindful not to tease wildlife into these situations as wild animals can often get hurt when they have altercations with humans.
Identify Waste Business Opportunities
For all you hustlers out there, there are business opportunities to be made with trash. It is one of the most under utilized resources because people see it as trash and not as something that could be repurposed or recycled into something else. Use Google Images, Pinterest, or Etsy to look up pictures for ecobrick buildings, trash art/jewelry, repurposed art/jewelry/fashion, upcycled art/jewelry/fashion. We can even make cool costumes out of trashion fashion. I encourage you to look into all these ideas and be inspired. Bring other inspired people that share a particular interest together and start a co-op (email me for quick guide on how to set one up). There may even be opportunities for private collection services in the future. We should want to encourage our community to use more eco-friendly products and so there are many opportunities for individuals to bring those types of products into our market and convince shop owners not to carry others. We should think that jobs and businesses can be created out of our current crisis. If the area came together as one inspired unit, perhaps we could create a whole new tourism based our town being known world wide for turning trash into treasures.
If the Municipality does not get their act together, I would encourage the reporting of illegal dumping. We may also want to start a petition and bring media attention to this issue.
There is a spiritual dimension to this that can be overlooked. Sometimes people want to believe Life will just work out. That wishful, positive thinking is good enough. Although I believe in the idea of Abundance, I would like to briefly address and redefine abundance. Abundance comes with Gratitude. You don't need as much because you are grateful for living in paradise and so living with less is not a sacrifice but a joyful choice you make. What you realize is the true treasure is not material things, but our relationship with this living Earth and with each other. Sometimes I think people get abundance confused thinking it has to do with manifesting material wealth via money so they, let's face it, can consume more. The Earth can abundantly provide for us if we are collectively living in sustainable ways, in harmony with the Planet. This means consuming less and when we do consume that it be in more environmentally friendly ways. There is an important guiding story or narrative that I will share at another time as I do believe it can be helpful for the future.
Now we have heard that the municipality has pledged to solve this by the end of the week. Until it is solved and trash services are visibly running again, we still have a problem. And let's be honest, this might be a problem we would see again anyway. All over the world waste management is a challenge. We need to do something. Each and every one of us. I know when things go down, I like to step up - what about you?
Written by: Janine Jordan
Green Wave Founder