Case Western Reserve University engineering students heading to Costa Rica

Costa Rica GDP of $10,000; comprehensive health care, no access to sanitation


By Gregory Jackson

Founder, Groundz


Photo. A Costa Rican pineapple farmer tosses a basketful of pineapple. Farmers can help build critical food waste recycling infrastructure by having the farm serve as a composting drop off location, and to use this material to enrich their soil, organically and for free under the Groundz model of food waste recycling. Photo by: Terri Thorn-Macdonald.

Case Western Reserve University departments of Bioethics and Civil Engineering are studying abroad to investigate Health and Health Care: A Comparative Perspective: Costa Rica and the United States. Course and Community Service in Costa Rica, December 27, 2014 to January 4, 2014 (in Bahia Ballena) and January 4-10, 2015 in San Jose.

BETH 315C/415C, is a study abroad, 3-credit course giving undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students an opportunity to study and investigate the environmental engineering challenges with the application of health care in Costa Rica.

“I want my students to have an opportunity to get their hands dirty,” said Dr. Kurt Rhoads, leading the civil engineering component study abroad. “While it’s great to have students learn theory and equations, having the community service component allows them to connect theory with reality.”

Just last year Costa Rica began providing waste services, but even then hauling waste is spotty. Waste may be removed one week, but forgotten the next. One of the projects students will participate in is a wastewater project.

“Students will collect water quality data, choose a design, and contribute to building a solution to an existing water problem with an emphasis on sustainability” according to the course description.

“I would like to see a type of composting system,” said Rhoads. “To help reduce rodents the residents hang their waste in a type of basket above the ground.” Costa Rica can use a sustainable waste management by type of material.

For instance, composting would remove extended wait time for organic waste pickup. Since organic waste – like food waste sitting around too long – contribute to public health safety, vermin, and vectors. I provided suggestions for original research essays for students to investigate.

Since many subsistence farmers like growers of coffee, pineapple, and other food crops can benefit from compost, they can provide a solution by building vital food waste recycling infrastructure. The compost is created by the recycling of food waste and dead plant materials. “With so much rain in Costa Rica the topsoil often rinses away,” says Rhoads. Solving Costa Rica’s food waste recycling is as daunting as the United States’ challenges of food waste recycling, but all that is about to change.

By 2016, New York City is planning on passing a food waste recycling law. Soon other cities will follow suit in not only response to landfill challenges and hauling, but also a vital renewable and organic resource.

In Cleveland, Ohio Groundz recycles thousands of pounds of food waste per month for celebrity chefs and local foods at urban farms and schools to provide reliable food waste recycling pickup, localize hauling, and enrich local soil with organic waste for crops and edible education.

I suggested original research essay ideas for students and faculty for Case study abroad. An essay option for students attending the Costa Rica study abroad would be to investigate the relationship between food waste and health, food waste recycling and compost, compost and topsoil enrichment, and compost enriched soil for local farmers’ productivity and crop yield. Establishing correlation between socio-economic and reliable organic waste recycling infrastructure, the social challenges of such a system, benefit to local people, and sustaining the haul of waste. Designing a composting system for a local farm would be a great start, as composting solves another waste stream: Yard waste, dead plant materials, and unsold produce. Along with composting another opportunity arising is compost tea; engineering students could design a compost tea aerator and sampling for an active biologically healthy fertilizer spray.

Exploring the proper recycling of organic waste in a compost system and its relationship to public health and health care in Costa Rica, may help students at Beaumont school. The hands on experience of bioethics and engineering students at Case Western Reserve University can design a composting system at Beaumont, which would help build vital zero organic waste recycling infrastructure in Cleveland. Groundz will learn if/how food waste recycling initiatives locally can help food waste recycling systems in Costa Rica.


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