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News Releases from Region 02

EPA Hosts Caribbean Recycling Summit in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Event Provides Strategies to Reduce Waste and Highlights Upcoming Plastic Bag Bans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Contact Information: 
Brenda Reyes (
(787) 977-5869

(San Juan, P.R. – December 1, 2016) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting a summit on December 1 and 2 at Polytechnic University in San Juan, Puerto Rico to address ways to reduce waste and boost recycling and composting in the Caribbean. More than 300 students and teachers, business leaders and government officials, and community leaders have come together to develop an action plan and a common vision for implementing zero waste efforts in the Caribbean. The Summit is sponsored by the Puerto Rico Recycling Partnership and the U.S. Virgin Islands Recycling Partnership, with the support of the U.S. EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Puerto Rico Solid Waste Management Authority, the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board and the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority. Judith Enck, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 2, opened the event with remarks on solid waste management issues and ways to address them through reduction of food waste, composting, boosting glass, metal, and plastics recycling, and public education.

Puerto Rico Governor Garcia Padilla signed into law a ban on retail stores providing plastic bags to customers beginning December 30, 2016. Six months following this date, stores not complying with this ban will face fines. The U.S. Virgin Island’s Governor Kenneth Mapp signed into law a ban on retail stores providing plastic bags to customers beginning January 1, 2017. Stores not complying with the law will face fines beginning April 1, 2017.

"The most effective way to handle solid waste is to produce less of it,” said Carmen Guerrero Pérez, the Director of the EPA’s Caribbean Environmental Protection Division. “The new plastic bag bans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will make a noticeable impact on the amount of waste in landfills, streets, and waterways. We want to use this Summit to build upon the momentum and interest that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have created to find ways to expand source reduction, recycling, and composting throughout the Caribbean. It makes economic and environmental sense”

"Eliminating the need for landfills is being environmentally responsible and recycling puts the Virgin Islands on that path," said Dawn L. Henry, Commissioner, U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

“Sustainability is among the most important issues of our time,” said Harith Wickrema, President of the Island Green Living Association (IGLA) and Chairman of the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority. “In addition to the call to ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,’ we must encourage the public, government and businesses to rethink waste/resource management through education and engagement. USVI Governor Mapp has introduced far reaching recycling bills including a plastic bag ban, source separation and bottle deposit legislation with the goal of becoming one of the greenest Caribbean territories and hopefully an example for others to follow.”

“The use of reusable plastic bags in our daily lives is an economically viable practice, which will greatly benefit the environment and public health,” said Weldin F. Ortiz Franco, President of the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board. “The Environmental Quality Board has also been working on new regulations for source-separated organic wastes composting facilities. The draft regulations will create a new regulatory permitting tier system for composting facilities based on the type and quantity of wastes being handled at the facility. We are confident the new composting facility regulations will have an immediate effect in the expansion of the composting industry in Puerto Rico, especially for food waste,” continued President Ortiz Franco. The draft regulations will be formally adopted this month.

Only 1% of the one billion plastic bags circulating in Puerto Rico are recycled. Plastic bags are made with petroleum and, therefore, contribute to climate change. Also, plastic bags do not break down easily in the environment, adding to the amount of litter on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands’ beaches and communities.

Plastic bags contribute to the growing amount of trash polluting waterways in the Caribbean and throughout the world. 80% of trash in the world’s oceans comes from land, and 80% of that trash is plastic. Plastic pollution harms birds, fish and other wildlife in lakes, rivers and oceans. For example, turtles sometimes mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them. It is estimated that over eight million metric tons of plastic pollution enter the world's oceans annually. By 2025, this amount is expected to more than double.

For more information on the plastic bag ban in Puerto Rico, or to report businesses using plastic bags in Puerto Rico after June 30, 2017, Puerto Rico’s Department of Consumers Affairs can be reached at the following hotline: (787) 722-7555.

For more information on the plastic bag ban in the U.S.V.I, or to report businesses using plastic bags in the U.S.V.I. after April 1, 2017, the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority has set up the following hotline: (340) 713-1962.

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