The Commonwealth must increase recycling education and awareness to slow its solid waste problems.
Getting residents to recycle in Puerto Rico has long been a challenge. Approximately 4 million tons of solid waste a year is generated by Puerto Ricans, but only around 10% of that waste is recycled, according to the Solid Waste Authority, Autoridad de Desperdicios Solidos (ADS).
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Puerto Rico residents generate more waste than people living on the mainland, and recycling rates in the Commonwealth are lower. Much of Puerto Rico’s solid waste ends up in one of island’s 32 landfills, most of which do not comply with Commonwealth and federal landfill requirements.”
In September 2007, PepsiCo and Walmart announced a joint effort to promote recycling in Puerto Rico under the slogan, “Take it seriously, recycle for Puerto Rico” (Tómatelo en Serio, Recicla por Puerto Rico).
One of the program highlights was the establishment of 16 recycling centers located at Walmart and Sam’s Club locations across the island, where shoppers are able to recycle their aluminum cans and PET plastic bottles. The project also incorporated a recycling contest among public and private schools from around the island in the elementary, junior high and high school categories.
The Battery Recycling Company in Arecibo was created in 1997 to combat the tossing of lead and acid batteries, the root cause of serious environmental and contamination problems in Puerto Rico’s landfills. The company recycles an average of 2 million batteries a year, and also recycles in its daily operations by reusing motor oil, oil filters and metal scrap waste from local industry production and used in the process of secondary lead smelting.
Unfortunately, the EPA recently became aware of extensive lead contamination in the cars and homes of workers at the Battery Recycling Company. The EPA is working closely with the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Puerto Rico Department of Health, the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board and the Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration to address health and environmental concerns related to lead contamination from the facility. Operations at the Battery Recycling Company are being investigated under multiple environmental laws.
Some encouraging news
According to newsismybusiness.com, in about six months, “Construction of the first plant capable of receiving up to 2,100 tons of waste per day to convert it into biofuel will begin in Arecibo. The proposed $500-million waste-to-energy plant owned by Albany, NY-based Energy Answers would generate 80 megawatts of energy and would create some 150 new ‘green collar’ permanent jobs.”
Education is the key to increasing recycling rates. When people know why they should recycle and what they can recycle, they are more likely to follow through. Hopefully, Puerto Rico will continue its efforts to educate its residents about recycling and improve its recycling rates.