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Government Scraps Some Recycling Facilities As Unusable

New recycling strategy would focus on public involvement, not infrastructure


April 15, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Some costly recycling facilities built under the Rossello administration’s elaborate plan to manage solid waste are unusable and out of service, said Solid Waste Management Authority (SWMA) Executive Director Guillermo Riera.

Riera gave the example of a $17 million Materials Recovery Facility in Guayanilla. The facility isn’t being used because it would take another $5 million to make the design changes needed to make it serviceable, he said.

The SWMA has tried to put out to bid a contract for a Materials Recovery Facility in Hormigueros, but no company has made an offer because of the high cost of refurbishing the facility, he added.

"These are large facilities that are unusable," said Riera. "The majority of the infrastructure facilities weren’t planned well."

Under a 1992 law, the government must take steps to guarantee that 35% of waste is recycled by 2006. The law has been amended several times after previous deadlines for achieving the recycling goal came and went.

The Rossello government designed an elaborate system of recycling facilities and waste-transfer stations throughout the island to address the island’s growing solid-waste problem. In 2001, Gov. Calderon ordered the Rossello plan scrapped and a new strategy devised.

Riera said the old strategy was too centralized, involving the construction of infrastructure projects, and depended too much on the government to reach the recycling goal and not enough on people. Under the Rossello plan, the SWMA told municipalities where to route their solid waste.

"It doesn’t make any sense for a bureaucrat in San Juan to tell a municipality where to take its garbage," said Riera. "The municipalities know better because each municipality is different."

The new strategy would involve the municipalities to a greater degree and also would try to get the public to sort trash. "The desired alternative is to involve the people," said Riera.

Under the new plan, municipalities would have greater responsibility for designing and implementing recycling programs. Additionally, a number of measures would be taken to educate the public about recycling, including introducing recycling education into the curriculum in public schools. Another would see a law passed requiring that the construction of all new buildings include spaces for recycling containers in addition to conventional garbage cans.

The SWMA is also facing the prospect of diminishing space in the island’s 31 landfills. An Environmental Quality Board report found that 12 of the landfills have a life expectancy of only three to five years. "We have a crisis in the making," said Carl Soderberg, chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Caribbean office.

Riera disagreed, saying Puerto Rico uses less space per person in landfills than other jurisdictions. "I wouldn’t characterize it as a crisis but as a challenge we have to face, and we have to look for alternatives," he said.

Riera traveled to Germany and Italy to inspect waste-to-energy projects similar to the municipality of Caguas’. He came away impressed by the plants. "That project has a future," he said.

The company pushing the Caguas project, Interstate Waste Technologies, is negotiating an agreement with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) that Riera said would allow it to sell power to Prepa at a price that would make the project economically feasible.

He said the Calderon administration isn’t against waste-to-energy projects, but it won’t go for any project that involves government investment. Two other waste-to-energy projects have been proposed, but sites have yet to be found for those.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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