Will Costa Rica be the world’s first plastic-free country?

Posted on 03 May 2018.

In June 2017, Costa Rica announced its intention to completely eradicate single-use plastic by 2021 - the first country in the world to do so.

4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced every day in Costa Rica. 11% is untreated plastic waste.

A small green country squeezed between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica is an ecotourism reference. Travelers from all over the world visit to discover its diverse fauna and lush flora. And for good reason: it may be small but the country is home to no less than 6% of the world’s biodiversity.

The government realized that nature is Costa Rica’s main asset and since the 1980s has made every effort to protect it: including, among other things, zoo closures, reforestation, and establishing protected areas (25% of the total surface area of the country). In 2009, the President of Costa Rica announced a comprehensive plan for a neutral carbon footprint by 2021. The first project that will help achieve this goal is further developing renewable sources of energy. In 2015, the country accomplished the amazing feat of using only green electricity for 250 days.

Global calamity

The government’s new major battleground? Plastic, because it generates a lot of CO2 in production. And more specifically, disposable plastic: bags, cups, straws, cutlery, bottles, etc. Everyday objects often only used for a few minutes, but which take several hundred years to decompose in nature. So much so that the latest report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.

Costa Rica is no exception to this global calamity: of the 4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced in the country every day, 11% is untreated plastic waste that pollutes rivers, beaches and the soil. On June 5, 2017 - World Environment Day - the country announced its new national plan to eradicate all single-use plastics by 2021. They will have to be replaced by alternatives that are 100% recyclable or biodegradable and not petroleum-based.

Online platform

To achieve this, the country has the technical and financial support of the United Nations Development Program – in particular to encourage R & D in this field. The strategy relies on an online platform on which all Costa Ricans – businesses as well as citizens - can follow the evolution of the actions that are being implemented, and register their own products or alternative materials. The government estimates that this decision should increase business activity related to the production and sale of renewable materials by 30%.

In the same way as El Hierro island in the Canaries, which only uses renewable energy sources, the small size of a country like Costa Rica is an asset for experimental environmental protection projects. And for inspiring bigger ones...