Food sources and accessibility and waste disposal patterns across an urban tropical watershed, implications for the flow of materials and energy

TitleFood sources and accessibility and waste disposal patterns across an urban tropical watershed, implications for the flow of materials and energy
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsGarcia-Montiel, D, Verdejo-Ortiz, J, Santiago-Bartolomei, F, Vila, M, L. Santiago, S, Melendez-Ackerman, E
JournalEcology and Society
IssueUnderstanding the Vulnerability and Sustainability of Urban Social-Ecological Systems in the Tropics: Perspectives from the City
Start Page37
Accession NumberLUQ.1150
Keywordshousehold, nutrient cycling, San Juan ULTRA, social-ecological systems, urban biogeochemistry, urban ecology, urban metabolism, watershed

Appraising the social-ecological processes influencing the inflow, transformation, and storage of materials and energy in urban ecosystems requires scientific attention. This appraisal can provide an important tool for assessing the sustainability of cities. Socio-economic activities are mostly responsible for these fluxes, which are well manifested in the household unit. Human behavior associated with cultural traditions, belief systems, knowledge, and lifestyles are important drivers controlling the transfer of materials throughout the urban environment. Within this context, we explored three aspects of household consumption and waste disposal activities along the Río Piedras Watershed in the San Juan metropolitan area of Puerto Rico. These included: the source of food consumed by residents, recycling activities, and trends in connection to the municipality’s sewerage system. We randomly interviewed 437 households at six sites along the watershed. We also conducted analysis to estimate accessibility to commercial food services for residents in the study areas. Our surveys revealed that nearly all interviewed households (~97 percent) consumed products from supermarkets. In neighborhoods of the upper portion of the watershed, where residential density is low with large areas of vegetative cover, more than 60 percent of residents consumed food items cultivated in their yards. Less than 36 percent of residents in the in densely urbanized parts of the lower portion of the watershed consumed items from their yards. Accessibility to commercial stores for food consumption contrasted among study sites. Recycling activities were mostly carried out by residents in the lower portion of the watershed, with better access to recycling programs provided by the municipality. The surveys also revealed that only 4 to 17 percent of residences in the upper watershed are connected to the sewerage system while the large majority uses septic tanks for septic water disposal. For these residents wastewater from house maintenance is disposed of directly into the environment. In the lower portion of the watershed all residents were connected to the sewerage system. Our study suggests the need to understand human behavioral attitudes in the acquirement and processing of resources, as a tool to generate informed-based strategies promoting sustainable consumption and disposal patterns.