Este informe no está disponible en español.
EDITORIAL & COLUMN
No Time To Waste
By FRANCISCO JAVIER CIMADEVILLA
May 13, 2004
Puerto Ricos solid-waste management problem has been in critical condition for years, and it is getting worse every minute.
Federal officials believe solid waste could soon overtake water as Puerto Ricos No. 1 environmental problem. "We have a crisis in the making," they say.
Like other infrastructure shortcomings we facein water & sewerage, electricity, and transportation, for examplethe lack of an adequate solid-waste management system is a serious limitation to our economic development. It is also a threat to our public health and our environment.
Against this reality, one wonders why there isnt more of a public outcry for the government to get this important issue under control.
One reason is that our solid-waste crisis isnt one that people see every day. Water, for example, is different. We all open our taps every day and see first hand whether water comes out, or whether what comes out is of poor quality. We also experience the good or bad state of our roads every time we go out in our cars. And so on with most of our pressing infrastructure problems.
Garbage is different. The average persons awareness level is limited to whether the municipal garbage truck passed by the neighborhood and picked up the weeks garbage on the designated day. After that, we generally have no clue about what happens, or what kind of a problem there is, at the other end of the garbage trucks route.
Well, as it happens, at the end of that garbage trucks drive, theres one big mess. Puerto Rico generates 3.6 million tons of solid waste every year, and the space to accommodate all that garbage is quickly running out. Of the 31 landfills in operation around the island, 16 will be filled to capacity within the next three to five years, and they will have to close.
To address the problem, as soon as she came into office, Gov. Calderon ordered the solid-waste management plan in effect under the Rossello administration scrapped and a new one drafted.
Now, three and a half years into office, the Calderon administration is almost ready to launch a $1.4 billion, 20-year strategy to tackle the problem.
The gist of it is to throw the old problem back in the hands of the municipalities, the vast majority of which had already proved they couldnt handle it. Precisely because of the municipalities inability to handle the problem, particularly the small municipalities that dont have the necessary resources or managerial wherewithal, the Rossello administration had implemented a regional system to transport, separate, and dispose of garbage.
Worse yet, the Calderon administrations new plan doesnt provide for any new landfillsor any other bold measure to address the pressing issuebut rather leaves the decision over any new infrastructure to the municipalities. Instead, as if through an act of faith, the plan just hopes that the municipalities will manage to achieve much higher levels of recycling so that existing landfills might last longer.
That may be a false hope. As far back as 1992, the Legislature set a recycling goal of 35% by 1995. It has had to extend that deadline several times. At present, Puerto Ricos recycling rate stands at somewhere between 10% and 16%, depending on whether you talk to federal or state officials.
It is also regrettable that plans to establish a privately funded waste-to-energy plant in Caguas havent moved faster. According to estimates, that plant alone would process one-third of the islands total solid waste. It has been supported by Caguas Mayor Willie Miranda Marin since the days of the Rossello administration and has received the nod of every state official who has reviewed the technology involved. Now, its private-sector proponents say financing has been lined up and the permitting process is about to begin.
Lets hope the permitting authorities consider the waste-to-energy project seriously and quickly. Because Puerto Ricos garbage problem can wait no longer, and the Calderon administrations new solid-waste management plan isnt the solution.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.