Op-Ed: Recycling during San Sebastián a huge success

Written by  //  February 9, 2016  //  Biz Views  //  No comments

Author Judith Enck is regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2, which covers Puerto Rico, New York, Eight Indian Nations, New Jersey, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Author Judith Enck is regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2, which covers Puerto Rico, New York, Eight Indian Nations, New Jersey, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The San Sebastián Festival is always one of the best of the year, representing the culmination of the holiday celebration in Puerto Rico. This year proved to be even more special for another reason: more than 83,059 pounds of material was source-separated and recycled at the festival in Old San Juan.

Events like these are enjoyable and important, yet one can imagine the considerable amount of waste that is produced during the four-day period. Since 2013, through the “SanSe Recicla” program, EPA and partners including the Municipality of San Juan, the Solid Waste Management Authority, Zero Waste, Sierra Club, San Juan Bay Estuary and two private recycling companies, have collected and recycled valuable materials like glass, metal and plastics.

This year’s recycling efforts paid off once again, and we can proudly say that San Sebastián did not send more than 83,000 pounds of recyclable plastics, aluminum, paper and cardboard to the landfill. Instead, it was collected and then recycled.

Puerto Rico is also taking steps to stop waste generation at the source. The legislature and governor adopted a new law to ban plastic bags in the commonwealth. The ban will go into effect in 2017.

Solid waste disposal is a huge problem in Puerto Rico. Statistics show that 4 million tons of waste is generated in Puerto Rico each year, and the majority of this waste ends up in landfills. The 28 or so landfills operating on the Island are filling up fast, and most of them don’t meet environmental requirements.

Everything we reuse or recycle or compost saves landfill space. Experts estimate that up to 60 percent of the garbage Puerto Ricans throw away could be composted or recycled and need not end up in a landfill. Yet, today only about 15 percent is recycled.

We’ve been working hard to turn this tide, and will continue to do so. Since May 2010, when the EPA formed the Puerto Rico Recycling Partnership, we have worked to help Puerto Rico solve this solid waste crisis and to enhance the local economy.

The partnership was charged with promoting waste reduction and reuse and composting. By reducing the waste they generate and recycling or composting the waste that they do generate, municipalities can create green jobs and save the island from overfilling landfills.

Puerto Rico needs to ramp up recycling efforts across the commonwealth. Efforts like the SanSe Recicla program, the plastic bag ban, and the Puerto Rico Recycling Partnership are steps forward, but more recycling needs to be done to keep the landfills from overfilling and to ensure the health and safety of our communities and our environment.

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