As part of its continuing efforts to help the Caribbean recover from the long-term impacts from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is awarding $6.2 million to the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) as the first installment of a $40 million grant for hazardous and solid waste management financial assistance.
This funding is awarded through the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Relief under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which provides supplemental appropriations to respond to and recover from recent hurricanes and other disasters.
“EPA is partnering closely with Puerto Rico as we work collaboratively to tap into every eligible financial resource available to assist with the long-term recovery work and bring stability to the island, both environmentally and economically,” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez in a statement. “Many of Puerto Rico’s landfills were facing challenges such as not meeting requirements or nearing capacity before Hurricanes Irma and Maria generated more than 12 million cubic yards of debris. This funding will help Puerto Rico’s government build capacity in its solid waste programs and help municipal landfills make urgent improvements.”
This massive amount of waste produced by the storms largely went to these landfills, crippling solid waste infrastructure in Puerto Rico. It is expected that EPA’s approval and financial backing of DNER’s waste management work plan will aid Puerto Rico’s post-storm landfill issues, develop a long-term sustainable solid waste program that addresses historic shortcomings and increase preparedness for managing waste from future storms.
The work is expected to take seven years, and DNER proposes to implement the grant work plan activities in two phases. Phase I, funded by the $6.2 million installation, will begin shortly after grant funds are received with EPA oversight and includes hiring and training staff; conducting a solid waste characterization study; updating Puerto Rico’s integrated solid waste management plan; and updating solid waste regulations to adequately design, construct and operate landfill systems.
A solid waste characterization study followed by a market analysis allows the government to understand the composition of materials discarded in the waste stream. Waste characterization data is collected by taking samples of waste and sorting it into material types, including recyclable items such as newspapers, cardboard, plastic bottles, glass bottles and jars, tin cans and small appliances. This study is the first step in developing and updating the integrated solid waste management plan and evaluating ways to reduce and manage waste and cut disposal costs. Additionally, the data collected will inform and assist the government of Puerto Rico when making future policy and regulation decisions in its efforts to improve its landfill operations.
Once DNER is ready to start Phase II of the work plan activities, EPA will collaborate with DNER to approve the plan and award the remaining $33.8 million in grant funds. Phase II will use the grant funds for more staffing and training; providing outreach and technical assistance; conducting permit and landfill closure plan reviews; and conducting non-hazardous waste compliance and enforcement activities.
Throughout the process, EPA said it will continue to work closely to provide support to DNER and the Puerto Rican government as they work with local offices and other stakeholders to maintain a sustainable solid waste program.