Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Editorial | Make environment a priority

Published:Saturday | February 18, 2017 | 2:00 AM

Private-sector initiatives to stave off contamination and protect the Riverton City landfill are small but important steps that ought to challenge the entire country to engage in more environmentally friendly behaviour.

Wisynco, the major producers of styrofoam packaging containers in Jamaica, has undertaken a significant investment to introduce a biodegradable additive that will make its products less harmful to the environment. Two years ago, local restaurant chain Island Grill introduced durable cardboard packaging. These are innovative efforts that should be emulated by other players in manufacturing and industry as the country seeks to come to grips with the challenges of garbage disposal and environmental degradation. It is estimated that the Kingston Metropolitan Area accounts for some 600,000 tons of unsorted waste each week.

Elsewhere, there are few grocery stores that encourage the use of biodegradable packaging or promote reusable bags. Environmental activists have long been on the front lines making their contribution to public health by forming groups to clean up beaches and being vigilant about matters that threaten the viability of the environment.

Yet our sidewalks, verges and gullies remain clogged with plastics and styrofoam-laden garbage that is estimated to make up half of the country's non-biodegradable waste. Later, this garbage will become a nightmare for marine life and could even contaminate water sources and lead to flooding and pollution.

The Government now needs to demonstrate that it is concerned about the environment by bringing a new approach to environmental education and management by engaging consumers in a national effort that promotes cleaner, more wholesome communities.

 

ENFORCEMENT WOULD BE GOOD

 

In the absence of a comprehensive waste-management policy, enforcement of the anti-litter law would be a good first step. The fact that the law is not being enforced has emboldened individuals to discard their garbage with impunity. Littering and improper disposal of garbage are, for many Jamaicans, a quality-of-life issue and is pervasive in many communities.

There had been talk about creating an incentive framework for recycling materials such as tyres, plastic bags and batteries by introducing a returnable deposit fee to encourage consumers to recycle. This incentive could possibly motivate persons to do the right thing, which would eventually lead to a more responsible approach to disposal of garbage. Experiments with recycling plastic bottles appear to have worked well in partnership with schools, and we suggest that this should be expanded.

Cost is a huge factor in any decision to discontinue the use of plastic or styrofoam. But as government Senator Matthew Samuda noted, the estimated cost associated with a ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags and styrofoam would be far less than the long-term effect of continuous use. Mr Samuda brought a private motion to the Senate proposing a ban on importation of single-use plastic bags and styrofoam. His motion was approved, and the Government is now to establish a multi-stakeholder committee to make recommendations about the importation and use of plastic and styrofoam.

The time has come for expert minds to come together to redesign and overhaul the waste-management system by incorporating the concept of rewards and incentives in order to encourage a more responsible approach to garbage disposal that would focus on reuse, recycling and composting.