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Incentivise recycling

Published:Tuesday | December 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Incentivise recycling

We share Mario Mafessanti's concern about those "damn plastic bottles" and John McDowell's frustration at residing in a town littered with them and other garbage. But the problem is not only Ocho Rios'.

It is right across Jamaica. And, as we argue often, it represents, in large part, a failure of focus and management - our Government's inability to concentrate on the small things and doing them right. The result is what P.J. Patterson, the former prime minister, ironically, for someone who presided over a Government that failed to reverse the trend, once described as the "uglification of Jamaica".

Obviously, we do not support Dr McDowell's prescription of flogging the litterbugs. Nor would any rational Jamaican.

His suggestion for an anti-litter campaign, with the appropriate signs, has merit, but is not the full solution. Any such project must be underpinned by a clear, enforceable policy capable of inducing the required action.

Mr Mafessanti's call for a deposit on plastic bottles, in that context, makes sense. Indeed, it is not new.

Two decades ago, when Jamaica was in its early phase of transitioning from glass bottles to PET containers, existing users of glass, the price of whose products generally included the cost of the deposit, urged that a law be implemented to make it mandatory for this to happen with plastics.

They rested their position on twin planks. It would make the users of glass competitive with products packaged in cheaper plastic containers; and it would be good for the environment.

They lost the argument and many made the rational economic decision of converting to plastics. That resulted in what Mr Mafessanti observes on those four mornings a week that he walks around Ocho Rios - verges, gullies and drains strewn with garbage, mostly plastic containers, which are not biodegradable. Or, as was the case on Beach Clean-up Day when volunteers collected 14,000 plastic bottles from the island's beaches. And they hardly made a dent in the problem.

Clearly, turning back the clock on plastics is not feasible, but the Government can legislate incentives that make recycling viable. These would make deposits on certain kinds of PET containers mandatory, helping to make the collection and processing of plastics a worthwhile business. Any margin of increase in the upfront cost of products to consumers would have its return in the positive effect that reduced littering would have on the environment and the well-being of communities.

Additionally, while the Government will perhaps argue that it spends more on environmental management and solid-waste management than it collects in special funds, it would be of psychological value if people knew how, specifically, monies collected via the 0.5 per cent environmental levy applied to the cif value of imports. That levy has, so far, this fiscal year, collected J$2.3 billion.

Then there is the issue of a failure of management and the inefficient use of available resources. The National Solid Waste Management Authority is an especially bad culprit. The NSWMA has, commendably, been recently attempting a clean-up of towns and cities - in a wasteful manner.

Yesterday, for instance, it had an army of people cleaning verges on Old Hope Road in St Andrew. On a stretch of 30 yards were a dozen persons dolefully dragging rakes. Others were bunched together in small areas. That wasn't because the workers are lazy, but because of a lack of supervision.