Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Editorial | Marcus Garvey flood and PET policy

Published:Thursday | September 15, 2016 | 9:04 AM

Last week's flooding of Marcus Garvey Drive and some adjacent communities in lower St Andrew during a relatively moderate downpour was in part a reflection of the run-down state of much of Jamaica's public infrastructure and the poor job of their maintenance. But it was as much a statement about the failures in the management of solid waste and effecting credible policies therefor.

Moreover, while this newspaper is not sanguine that the suggestion is at this time entirely feasible, the Marcus Garvey Drive incident adds urgency for the Senate to debate Matthew Samuda's motion for banning the importation of plastic bags and styrofoam, and the promotion of alternative packaging. Indeed, it is an issue worthy of wide, serious and substantive debate.

The images from Marcus Garvey Drive last were startling: of nearly submerged vehicles; of scared people scrambling to safety; and of goods damaged in warehouses. The proximate cause was that the concrete gullies that empty into the nearby sea couldn't contain the volume of flow. They overflowed their banks. The inadequacy of secondary drains exacerbated the problem.

The fact these gully courses couldn't manage the flow was partly due to the absence of maintenance. Some are not only badly rutted, but have vegetation-covered islands on their floors. There is, however, something else of fundamental significance in that Marcus Garvey Drive picture: the mountains of styrofoam containers, PET bottles and plastic bags deposited by the floods.

This, unfortunately, is not a portrait unique to post-flood Marcus Garvey Drive. It is common in gullies across Jamaica; at their mouths where they enter the sea; on beaches; and on the sides of roads. The management of solid waste generally is not well done in Jamaica. The problem is worse for these petroleum-based container products. Jamaica seems in danger of being buried under them.

 

NO CREDIBLE POLICY

 

There is no immediately credible data of the amount of styrofoam, PET bottles or plastic bags consumed in Jamaica or the amount of waste they generate. What is clear, though, is that there is no credible policy, or none clearly enunciated by any agency of government, to deal with post-consumer PET and similar products, which essentially are non-biodegradable. The government's National Solid Waste Management Authority occasionally splutters on the subject and flutters with waste-differentiation projects. It has done little that is concrete. While there are small, independent and NGO-supported projects, only a small fraction of these products are recycled.

The upshot is that Jamaica is on the cusp of an environmental issue that needs urgent attention. This is not a matter merely for government. The solutions rest not only in the organisation of landfills and garbage collection. It is a matter for all sectors. For instance, the presence of these products in the sea threatens marine life, which threatens the livelihood of fishers, as well as the seafront tourism, which, ultimately hurts the entire economy - which threatens jobs in all sectors.

Clearly, landfill organisation and recycling have to be among the solutions, but incentives for consumers to lessen the use and/or to dispose of them responsibly have to also be on the agenda, which would put in play, among other things, consumer-deposit schemes, such as exist in many countries that face similar problems.