Costa Rica’s bold environmental move: the eco-tourism pioneer looks to set a new standard

It’s been close to two decades since I tried to phase bananas out of my life. Sometime in my teens was when I first saw pictures of marine life suffocated off the shores of Costa Rica because of the sheer quantity of blue plastic bags afloat. Those bags were the detritus of banana plantations, used to protect the yellow potassium bunches from insects and weather. Like America’s use of cheap plastic grocery sacks, the waste made me slightly ill.

But Costa Rica is turning things around. They’re starting to rethink those blue plastic bags as part of an ambitious environmental project. As the BBC reported this week, Costa Rica has become the first developing country to proclaim its desire to become completely carbon-neutral by the year 2021. Last year the government said it planted 5 million new trees, with hopes for 7 million this year, to drastically offset its carbon emissions. They’re working on news ways of addressing transport and integrating renewable energy into people’s lifestyles. And agricultural practices, such as those plastic banana bags, are coming under scrutiny. My father, who runs a Russian coffee roasting business, was blown away two years ago when he toured the coffee plantation his business buys beans from. With water recycling and shade planting, “I’ve never seen anything so efficient,” he said.

Costa Rica was in the vanguard of eco-tourism efforts, and it’s looking like the country will nab more of that market. The BBC report says that over 30% of the country’s land has been given over to national parks, an attraction that makes nature-lovers like me sit up and start searching Expedia for flights to San Jose, preferably with connections to Costa Rica’s Nature Air, the first airline to work towards becoming carbon neutral itself.

This is the sort of home-based environmental policies that travelers can support simply by going there. But I’ll wait on the bananas until they’ve found a way to nab and recycle all that blue plastic.

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