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In the absence of long-term plans for waste management in Puerto Rico, non-profit organizations are working to mitigate the effects of the potential crisis.
The issue of solid waste management in Puerto Rico has been ignored for years and decades, but Hurricane María helped citizens to realize the magnitude of the problem, according to Jessica Seiglie, co-founder and environmentalist in the non-profit organization Basura Cero Puerto Rico (Trash Zero Puerto Rico).
"María made visible the situation with which we have been working and creating awareness for the past six years. It has made us rethink many of the strategies and initiatives that we have established in the past and has led us to reformulate the efforts we must implement now, after this hurricane,” Seiglie said in an interview with AccuWeather en Español.
The non-profit organization Basura Cero Puerto Rico aims to establish strategies and programs to improve the management of solid waste on the island and encourage the academy, the government and the private sector to improve their practices on this problem.
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Citizen activism in the face of waste management crisis in Puerto Rico
According to Seiglie, since the events of the hurricane, the citizen response has been very positive because they experienced the direct effects of poor waste management in front of their own homes and communities.
In the same way, environmentalists have been a fundamental part in addressing the government's response when it comes to working on the waste generated after the cyclone.
This, making reference to one of the considerations that the Environmental Quality Board of Puerto Rico had at some point of incinerating the vegetative material generated by the cyclone.
Organizations such as Basura Cero have been essential when promoting initiatives such as recycling and the transformation of vegetative material to mulch or compost, strategies that are more responsible with the environment.
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In the hands of citizens, waste management on the island
The magnitude of the waste problem in Puerto Rico has motivated citizens to help find a solution.
"The situation of landfills in Puerto Rico is very critical. Our call always to the citizenship is that we as citizens are the ones who have the control... because the garbage situation is in our hands," said Seiglie.
Likewise, the hurricane and its effects have forced Basura Cero to rethink strategies and initiatives that have been established in the past, leading the non-profit organization to reformulate efforts and implementation, according to Seiglie.
With the help of the citizens, Basura Cero has managed to get a large part of the waste segmented before reaching landfills.
In addition, they have supported the compost and recycling centers to ensure they receive the material handled by the municipalities.
One of the initiatives of greatest impact has been the collaboration with government entities for the effective management of the high volume of alkaline batteries that have been used on the island.
Together with government agencies, they have created stations so that people can dispose of batteries properly. Subsequently, the entities have been responsible for disposing of them correctly.
Looking to the future, the organization seeks to establish plans for the management of waste in the midst of an atmospheric event.
"Disaster mitigation plans are always aimed at infrastructure: how to protect the house, the car. But the part of solid waste management is left unattended," said Seiglie.
For more information and to get involved in the activities of this organization, you can visit their website http://www.basuraceropr.org.
Author's notes: This is the third and final part of a series of reports on the issue of waste management in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. This story was translated from an original AccuWeather en Español series "Una isla entre basura"; watch a report in Spanish below:
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