Waste Management Offers Social and Environmental Benefits in Costa Rica

by CCAC Secretariat - 29 August, 2023
Waste management to reduce methane emissions is a task all sectors of society can contribute to.

Learning how to make waste into a valuable resource is one of the key challenges in revolutionising our current consumption models and making significant reductions in climate-warming pollutants methane and black carbon.  
Costa Rica – a global leader in sustainability initiatives and a signatory to the Global Methane Pledge – is one country where the CCAC is supporting waste sector methane reduction projects. Organic waste contributes to around 14% of Costa Rica’s methane emissions.  

In early 2023, Costa Rica completed an important CCAC-supported project to assess the feasibility of commercialising organic waste recovery, through both public-private cooperation, and the identification of financial mechanisms to support larger-scale waste organic waste sorting and processing. 

Since 2017, the CCAC has been supporting the Costa Rican government to achieve its methane reductions goals as a part of the country’s National Decarbonization Plan, NAMA (National Appropriate Mitigation Action) 2020 on Solid Waste, and the National Plan on Composting. 

Implemented by CCAC partner Cegesti, the Accelerating Actions to Improve Organic Waste Management and Reduce Methane project has used three pilot locations to test the feasibility of different models of organic waste processing.  

The pilot sites were: a composting plant operated by the Municipality of Coto Brus, which aimed to valorise 100% of the municipality’s organic waste; a composting project at the largest penitentiary centre in Costa Rica which aimed to valorise 51% of organic waste, as well as provide dignity and reintegration for prisoners; and a landfill methane capture project at Aczarrí Environmental Technology Park – Costa Rica’s largest landfill. Together the three projects have the potential to mitigate methane emissions equivalent to over 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over 20 years. 

Reducing methane emissions from waste not only mitigates the pace of climate change, but also leads to economic benefits such as creating high-quality local compost, and marketable natural gas. Reducing methane also reduces the production of tropospheric ozone, a potent air pollutant which damages human and plant health. 

The project had two main objectives – to accelerate the implementation of methane gas mitigation projects by supporting feasibility studies and the identification of financing sources; and identifying the best pathways to incentivise continued implementation of methane mitigation projects. 

According to Daira Gómez, Executive Director of Cegesti, one of the key challenges for methane mitigation waste projects is achieving a large enough scale to make significant methane mitigation gains and capture the resulting resources on a scale that can support the financial sustainability of the project.  

“This project is of great value since it becomes an exercise that contributes to closing the circle of the integral waste management, contributing to reduce the socio-environmental impacts of the country”. 

MSc. Olman Mora, Coordinator of Interinstitutional Projects – Sectorial and Municipal, Ministry of Environment and Energy 

The project revealed that a further step for developing Costa Rica’s methane mitigation projects lies in establishing the regulatory frameworks to include resources such as biogas and compost in existing markets. This was one of the experiences trialled by the company operating the Azcarri landfill – which now produces its own electricity at a scale where it is able to feed it back into the grid and receive income.  At full capacity the project would have an installed capacity to generate 2.4 MW. 
For the Municipality of Coto Brus, its distance from the capital and the high cost of transporting waste provides an extra incentive for managing and diverting organic waste locally. The municipality has so far purchased the land to create an organic waste treatment plant and obtained the necessary environmental licences. The full implementation of the plant would see it produce over 1900 tonnes of compost per year, which could be sold at the lowest current market price of $84 per tonne. It would also save the municipality US$140,000 per year in waste transport fees.  

At the penitentiary site, the climate benefits expected equal over 700 tonnes of organic waste per year, equivalent to 21,974 tonnes of CO2 over 20 years. Prisoners working on the project will also get the opportunity to reduce their sentences and gain employment skills.  
Costa Rica’s Ministries of Health and Environment have expressed enthusiasm to see these projects continue but challenges still exist in financing and capacity. The results of the project’s feasibility studies have however shown promise on these fronts. The Institute for Municipal Assistance (IFAM), for instance has already indicated its willingness to finance one of the projects and continue looking for opportunities to finance more promising projects. 

Pollutants (SLCPs)