Around the Region

Costa Rican president OKs phase-out of polystyrene

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado this month signed legislation to phase out polystyrene, a widely used material in food containers and packaging.  In a statement after the July 15 signing, the government cited discarded polystyrene cups, plates, food containers and other products as a major contributor to pollution of Costa Rica’s rivers and coastal waters. Though polystyrene can be recycled, authorities note Costa Rica does not have the equipment needed to do so. “It’s a material that can’t be reused,” said Daniel Salas, Costa Rica’s Health Minister. “This is why this ban on the import and sale [of polystyrene] is so important, as it will reduce the pollution caused by this type of waste.” The new law directs the Health Ministry to update the country’s waste-management plan within the next six months to include incentives aimed at phasing out polystyrene use. The ban will begin in 2021, with...

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Gray whale deaths prompt a three-nation research effort

A trinational network of researchers is probing a spike in gray whale deaths this year along the Pacific coasts of Mexico, the United States and Canada. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on May 31 announced an Unusual Mortality Event, a declaration that allows the federal agency to focus research and free up the necessary funds to do so. By July 18, NOAA had documented 189 gray whale deaths, or “strandings,” since January 1. The numbers include 103 whales in the United States, 78 in Mexico and 8 in Canada. The Mexican strandings occurred along the Baja Peninsula, where the migratory whales spend the winter breeding and calving.  Dave Weller of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, estimates that the documented death toll probably represents about 10% of the gray whale deaths experienced so far this year, based on a model developed after a...

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Solar power reaches remote indigenous villages in Brazil

Brazil’s fledgling but fast-growing solar market is broadening its geographic reach as equipment prices drop and efficiency increases, with panels now popping up not only in rural areas but also on even more remote indigenous lands. Currently accounting for just 1.1% of Brazil’s installed capacity, solar power is expected to reach 4.5% by 2027, mainly due to the installation of large-scale photovoltaic parks, the government says. In indigenous communities, what solar installations exist typically have been limited to small one-panel systems that power shortwave-radio communication among villages. Otherwise, indigenous communities have relied for the most part on diesel generators to provide electricity. This, however, is notably not the case in the Xingu Indigenous Territory, a 10,200-square-mile (26,400 sq-km) Indian reservation in the western state of Mato Grosso. Inhabited by 16 tribes with a total of 6,000 members, Xingu is Brazil’s largest indigenous producer...

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