A new study on the lifespan of landfills in Puerto Rico reflects the need to take comprehensive and integral initiatives leading to the responsible management of solid waste on our island.
As part of that initiative, it is urgent to move from intention to action, after 27 years not complying with the Law for the Reduction and Recycling of Solid Waste, which sets a 35 percent recycling rate, but the island barely reaches 10 percent, as the state government acknowledged recently.
Studies on landfills should serve to fine-tune plans to extend the use of some of these dumps, ensuring compliance with environmental laws created to protect the people as well as our island´s valuable natural resources.
The fact that after the 2017 hurricanes, authorities allocated $40 million to hire experts who would work on promoting the expansion of some landfills and obtaining legal permits for those purposes is remarkable, and so is that a portion of that package will be used to improve operational standards.
However, this allocation is insufficient to comprehensively move toward smart solid waste management, which involves implementing an integral policy that includes early-age education and changing lifestyles in homes and communities, among other efforts that do not only depend on money.
It is concerning that currently only one company that fully closes the recycling cycle, that is, they receive used materials and transform them here into a new product. Therefore, it is necessary to develop recycling markets and avoid importing 90 percent of recovered materials.
In addition to recycling, experts recommend promoting the reuse of materials, as well as implementing compost programs. Discouraging projections on landfills operation call to action to meet these goals. Of the 29 landfills, 18 are in violation of environmental laws and 11 have closure orders.
The Landfill Capacity Report Master Workbook, commissioned to EPA - which in turn, contracted Weston Solutions - documented the impact of hurricanes on landfills. According to this study, landfills received 2,660,000 tons of debris in nine months, which further undermined their lifespan. Projections in the study note that, in the best scenario, they could only operate an additional 4.19. tons, so the report recommended to expand some of these facilities.
2003 estimates pointed out the island generates 5.56 pounds of garbage per person per day. However, it is necessary to measure this variable today. Experts argue that it is imperative for the population to change consumption patterns and modify waste management. This could prevent potentially recyclable material from reaching landfills. Among these products, today, for example, they receive 22.1 percent of vegetative material and 14.5 percent of construction debris. For this reason, Carmen Guerrero, EPA director, estimated that the useful life of dumps "will depend on what we generate and whether or not we decide to reuse it, recycle it or compost it.”
The study confirms that solid waste is a top priority in Puerto Rico. The island should move toward a comprehensive and integral waste management project, that integrates education, health, preserving our limited natural resources and broad collaboration of the private sector, as well as community organizations.
The mission includes building an ecologically committed society, focused on promoting people´s health and wellness by avoiding pollution of water, soil and air, which will guarantee that everyone enjoys better quality of life.