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What’s the Deal with Illegal Dumps in Nosara?

Less than one kilometer from the Santa Marta School, a burning pile of garbage sends billowing smoke into the air, burning the eyes and throats of the students and nearby residents. Although the dump has been reported to local authorities, delays in legal solutions means the dump keeps burning.

It’s the antithesis of the Costa Rica we know and love–a country run entirely on renewable resources that is known around the world for eco-tourism, lush rainforests, and abundant wildlife.

So, why are these illegal dumps contaminating the air, soil, and water around Nosara and what can be done?

First, a couple of quick facts about waste in Costa Rica:

What to do with garbage that is expensive to transport and dispose of properly?

Illegal Dumpsite in Nosara - Community Photo -NCA

For some, that answer is illegal dumps carved into the jungle where toxic waste is burned for profit. The boom in new home construction is a significant source of waste, but the illegal burning is done far enough away from Playa Guiones that new residents may not even know that local communities just a few towns away are literally choking on their garbage.

  • There are currently 5 illegal dumps in the Nosara vicinity, including the one in Santa Marta.

In addition to poor air quality for residents of these communities, the illegal dump sites are leaching toxic chemicals into the Nosara River, poisoning the soil, contributing to wildfires, and threatening the health of both humans and wildlife.

With a long road ahead for legal recourse, what can be done?

  1. Know where your garbage is going. If you’re renovating or building, confirm with your contractor that waste is going to either the Santa Cruz or Miramar facilities, which are the closest legal dump sites to Nosara. You can confirm by requesting a receipt for your garbage disposal.

  2. Reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. Single-use plastic is a big problem in Costa Rica. Do not assume that your plastic water bottle, food packaging, or plastic bags will be recycled when, in fact, there is an 80 percent chance they will end up in the ocean.

Illegal dumping in Nosara challenges Costa Rica's eco-friendly essence. Let's monitor waste and reduce single-use plastics to safeguard our landscapes, health, and wildlife. Join us in ensuring a sustainable future for this cherished region. Visit for resources on proper waste management!


Emily is a writer and communications professional living in Stowe, Vermont, USA. She and her family have been visiting Costa Rica since 2011.

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