Costa Rica paves the way to end single-use plastics | Edgar Gutiérrez, María Esther Anchía and Alice Shackelford

14 Jul 2017

 In Costa Rica, 20 percent of the 4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced daily are not collected. Photo: UNDP

Costa Rica has ambitious and innovative plans to boost gains on the economic and social fronts while protecting the environment. Just a decade ago the country announced that by 2021 it would be carbon neutral. It now announces another goal for the next four years: to be the first country in the world with a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate single-use plastics.

It's a win-win for all: Costa Rica, the people and the planet.

Although the country has been an example to the world by reversing deforestation and doubling its forest cover from 26 percent in 1984 to more than 52 percent this year, today one fifth of the 4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced daily is not collected and ends up as part of the Costa Rican landscape, also polluting rivers and beaches.

Single-use plastics are a problem not only for Costa Rica but also for the whole world. It is estimated that if the current consumption pattern continues, by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish - measured by weight. For this reason, we began our journey to turn Costa Rica into a single-use plastic-free zone.

On 5 June, World Environment Day, the country officially launched its National Strategy to replace the consumption of this type of plastic for renewable and water-soluble alternatives: those that biodegrade within six months.

With a very short usage period, typical plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose. This includes the bulk of bags still given out by the majority of shops, also plastic straws and coffee stirrers, containers and tableware.

Being a country free of single use plastics is our mantra and our mission. It’s not going to be easy, and the government can’t do it alone. To promote these changes, we need all sectors—public and private—to commit to actions to replace single-use plastic through five strategic actions: municipal incentives, policies and institutional guidelines for suppliers; replacement of single-use plastic products; research and development—and investment in strategic initiatives. We also need the leadership and participation of all: women, men, boys and girls.

The initiative is led by the Government of Costa Rica, through the Ministries of Health and Environment and Energy, with technical and financial assistance from UNDP and support from local governments, civil society and various private sector groups.

Beyond that, we have promoted mechanisms for people, companies and institutions to join the strategy, by registering their commitments, voluntary actions and progress reports, including through an online platform.

We must continue to move towards sustainable production and consumption systems that also generate development opportunities, particularly for at-risk communities suffering the consequences while not causing water pollution. This entails a comprehensive system that cares for people’s health, ensures fair wages and equal opportunities for women and men, while taking care of forests and wetlands.

As stated in the Sustainable Development Goals, it is the responsibility of all sectors and people to ensure a balance between the social, economic and environmental realms, leaving no one behind. Faced with these new social, climatic and environmental challenges, such as the management of solid waste and its impacts on people, we believe that our experience, from a small country like Costa Rica, can become a source of inspiration for the entire world.

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