According to NOAA, the 2017 hurricane season produced 17 named storm: 10 became hurricanes and six of these reached Category 3, 4 or 5. This reality should be proof that if we want to decelerate climate change we must contemplate a shift in our economic model.
Economic and environmental objectives are often perceived as contradictory. While some believe that a choice must be made between one or the other, that both can’t be achieved simultaneously; the fact that our economic system is undoubtedly dependent on the economy of nature must make us rethink this alleged conflict.
Expanding and strengthening the recycling economy and all its components can represent an economic relief to the budget of our municipalities. One example is the municipality of Comerío. With a population of 21,108 inhabitants, Comerío has managed to achieve the goal of diverting 60% of the solid waste it produced that was previously destined for landfills. What was formerly known as “waste” is now used in different industries, achieving economic benefits as a result. For the Comerío this represents savings of more than $700,000 in its municipal budget.
Society can also help improve economic conditions by increasing job creation and industry revenues when adopting a comprehensive sustainable economic model. The Puerto Rico Solid Waste Authority reported that the recycling industry in 2007 was composed of just over 100 companies with 2,134 direct jobs and estimated sales of $222.5 million. In that year, 80% of the Puerto Rico’s waste was disposed in landfills while only 20% was recuperated. This 80% represent a huge opportunity for job and revenue creation in the recycling industry.
Hurricane Maria took many things, except solid waste; which, on the contrary, has increased drastically. Now, on the aftermath of this environmental phenomenon, Puerto Rico has the opportunity to develop sustainable and environmentally friendly infrastructures. Redesign, reuse, refill, regenerate, repair, recharge, reclaim, resell, recycle, deconstruct, remanufacture, saw, compost; these are all components of an improved model of waste management.
Humans will continue to consume goods and services, but we need to guarantee that the resources we take from Nature can be regenerated and reinserted back into the economy. Everything is made up of natural resources and “waste” itself is a resource that has been moving in the wrong direction: throwing, burying or burning resources is inefficient and not competitive. By realizing the value of “waste” and redirecting its flow we can reap significant environmental, economic and social benefits. If we are to learn the lessons of hurricane Maria, we must tie the reconstruction of our country to a shift in our economic model so as to preserve our environment all the while promoting economic growth.