Solid Waste Case Study: Municipality of Comerío, Puerto Rico’s Recycling Program Re-Opening, Facilities, and Permits
Written By: Edwin Vázquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist
BACKGROUND: After the hit of hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the high volume of debris and waste stressed the limited capacity of Comerío’s municipality to deal with it. They depend on a small Transfer Station (TS) for the management of the materials and waste to be disposed. A Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) with noticeable challenges was part of the strategy but it ends in the closing of the program in 2019, adding significant pressure to their TS and incrementing the cost of the operation running over its capacity. The process to reopen the MRF and reduce the waste, and the operational cost required an operator with technical knowledge about the materials but also, about facilities, development, and permits.
THE CHALLENGE: The new operator was established as a non-profit organization, different than the municipality, and should work on the existing facilities. New permits were required, and the regulators requested protocols for noise and contamination controls, and the information to support the actions to be taken. The operator’s limited capacity and the lack of information on the part of the regulators made this task difficult and the permit was denied.
THE APPROACH & SOLUTION: The RCAP TAP conducted a brief assessment of the MRF facilities and revised the regulation about the specific request. All the equipment specifications and facility areas were considered in the evaluation, including noise generation according to the industrial levels permitted. Sound levels were taken and recommendations to establish the necessary controls were discussed with the operator. The information required to satisfy the permits’ application was included, based on the regulations. The TAP consulted with the regulators and the application was submitted by the operator granting the permits that were previously denied.
THE IMPACT: This project is of great importance, since it is a model based on the expansion towards the circular economy of materials that are not currently processed in Puerto Rico. It is expected that this MRF will become a HUB for the processing of materials collected by other communities and municipalities. For the Municipality of Comerío, it is very important since it immediately reduced the cost of operating the TS, and the final disposal of materials that can be recovered from the waste stream. The RCAP TAP continues to provide guidelines and alternatives to improve the system, and coordinated a meeting with USDA to evaluate possible grant programs that could help in the development of the facilities.