Saturday, March 5, 2011

Even paradise has garbage

Sad but true, we all produce garbage, even if we live in a beautiful place famous for natural beauty. Where does it go?
The good news: we produce less garbage in Monteverde than in the US. We get no mail at all, much less junk mail. We buy few things that are packaged. No pizza delivery results in no pizza boxes. Orange juice comes out of an orange, not a container. Also, people here just have less stuff and therefore less to throw away. Like many, we compost all organic matter. I used to do worm composting but while I was gone my worms died or decamped. I found that just tossing organics into my compost box works fine; it just breaks down with the help of many insects and microbes.
   When we first lived in Monteverde, one needed to buy special garbage bags with a sticker on them. It didn't cost much from our gringo perspective, but like our neighbors we crammed as much as possible in each bag. And at the time there was a recycling program run by the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We would carry our cardboard, aluminum cans, bottles and jars to their sorting shed, which fortunately just a short walk for us. About every two weeks we had a medium sized garbage bag holding about 16 gallons/60 liters to take to the corner. Sadly, the recycling program no longer exists and the amount of our trash is considerably more. There is a bin for aluminum cans up at the reserve and I've been told it's OK to bring cans from home to put in it, so I'm doing that. I've heard that part of the problem was finding anyone to take the recyclables. For example, I've been told that recycling steel cans just doesn't happen in Costa Rica.
   The paid garbage bag system had one serious downside: people burnt whatever they could to minimize the number of bags they had to buy. Any windless afternoon, the smell of burning trash, which doubtless included lots of plastic, wafted around us. Some people put out garbage in unofficial bags; since it wasn't picked up, it would sit there or be scattered by the wind or by dogs.
  Now our municipality has a "garbage tax." As homeowners, it cost us $34 this year. (It might not sound like much, but that's more than many people here make in a full day of work.) Garbage can now be put out in any bag. Some neighborhoods have raised boxes to try to keep the dogs and other critters out. One neighborhood has this pretty reminder of what days garbage pickup occurs.
I almost never smell burning trash now. Twice a week, a couple of trucks come up the mountain to pick up our garbage and drive it back down to a big landfill site near sea level. Yes, our garbage has a pretty large carbon footprint.
  If you come to Monteverde as a tourist, what can you to minimize your impact? The thing I wish all tourists here knew: our water here is good and safe. You can help us reduce the amount of garbage here by drinking tap water.

1 comment:

Kimberly said...

I understand your concern and most tourists don´t expect to find garbage in the places they visit but not all countries can do something about it. I thought that was going to be the case of Argentina when I travelled there. I got an apartment rental in Buenos Aires in a nice neighbourhood and I thought that there was going to be litter like in any other place. Surprisingly, no, there was not. It was clean and tidy. It is nice when you come across situations like these because you don´t expect them and then is something good!