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Food Sources and Accessibility and Waste Disposal Patterns across an Urban Tropical Watershed: Implications for the Flow of Materials and Energy

Diana C. Garcia-Montiel, Institute For Tropical Ecosystem Studies
Julio C. Verdejo-Ortiz, Graduate School of Planning, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Raul Santiago-Bartolomei, Graduate School of Planning, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Cristina P. Vila-Ruiz, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Luis Santiago, Graduate School of Planning, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Elvia Melendez-Ackerman, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras; Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras


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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. Socioeconomic 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 440 households at 6 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%) 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% of residents consumed food items cultivated in their yards. Less than 36% 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% of residences in the upper watershed are connected to the sewerage system whereas 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 there is a 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.

Key words

household; nutrient cycling; San Juan ULTRA; social-ecological systems; urban biogeochemistry; urban ecology; urban metabolism; watershed

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087