Recycling Pilots in Puerto Rico
The Closed Loop Foundation, in partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation, looks to build the circular economy in Puerto Rico.
Using Puerto Rico as a case study, the Closed Loop Foundation conducted research focused on materials management challenges. Island nations in particular face acute challenges on the climate crisis frontline, including distance from recycling markets and coastline proximity which can lead to ocean plastic pollution if materials are not managed properly. It’s critical that we keep valuable materials in manufacturing supply chains and out of our oceans.
Puerto Rico faces a host of well-documented challenges in its recycling and waste management system, including a lack of or aging infrastructure and difficult disposal conditions whereby many of its 29 landfills are operating below regulatory standards. Recently, catastrophic storms (Hurricanes Irma and Maria) and political and economic upheaval have put further strain on action toward more sustainable materials management. The confluence of these issues provided the opportunity to put circularity to the test.
As an island nation, uplifting the recycling system is critical
Quality recycling infrastructure yields environmental benefits (e.g., reducing leakage of plastics into the environment), preserves resources, and creates economic stability. Toward these goals, the Closed Loop Foundation (CLF) received a grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation to carry out a three-step approach to address recycling and materials challenges faced by Puerto Rico:
Conduct research and stakeholder outreach to understand the waste management system, material flows, available infrastructure, and bottlenecks to system improvements
Identify pilot-scale demonstration projects that can help fill knowledge gaps and address bottlenecks in the system
Identify actions that can substantially increase material recovery in the near and medium term
Ten different pilot projects were designed on the basis of the research and stakeholder outreach described earlier. We performed a decision analysis using the following criteria to narrow the list of projects:
- Potential impact
- Sustainability (i.e., can the project sustain beyond the pilot period?)
Based on these five criteria, the list of potential projects was narrowed to two:
Pilot 1: Recicla Más, Recicla Mejor
A digital outreach campaign in Guaynabo, a northern Puerto Rican municipality, to increase the quality and quantity of recyclables placed curbside.
This pilot was informed by our research and multiple stakeholder meetings that stressed the importance of educating the public to improve the quality and amount of recyclables collected curbside. Material characterization efforts indicated contamination rates of 50%+ being delivered from some municipalities.
The program was designed to (i) raise awareness of the recycling program, (ii) instruct residents to alter behavior to recycle more and recycle only acceptable materials, and (iii) uncover insights on behavior, sentiment regarding the recycling program, and related challenges.
Launched in June of 2019, the campaign targeted approximately 700 households across three Guaynabo neighborhoods. It included an all-digital ad campaign, a Facebook page, and mobile-enabled landing page. Additional integrated resources included direct email outreach and a linked survey.
Pilot 2: Online Recycling Education Platform
The free tool is focused on a recycling curriculum and is targeted toward municipal recycling coordinators and directors in Puerto Rico.
After engaging with stakeholders, we learned that municipal recycling coordinators needed support to help carry out the critical functions that fall under their responsibility. The aim of the pilot was to bolster institutional knowledge, development and retention of municipal recycling coordinators in Puerto Rico.
Creation of a new online learning platform was led by the selected pilot partner, Puerto Rico Science, Technology, and Research Trust. The platform integrates multiple types of curated online, on-demand content and includes a certificate program.
- Key waste and recycling definitions, system components, and technologies
- Waste management frameworks including the circular economy and the waste management hierarchy
- Educational approaches for recycling programs
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