Tue | Jun 18, 2019

Kelly McIntosh | Getting rid of garbage

Published:Sunday | March 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Kelly McIntosh

In a letter to the editor in the March 23, 2018, edition of The Gleaner, the writer bemoaned the state of the gully along Mannings Hill Road. The writer ended by calling on the MP, local government and environmental groups to address the gully. But until we apply a system fix that addresses root causes of the garbage problem, we'll continue to make these calls.

The same Mannings Hill gully was cleaned a few years ago. Many, many truckloads of waste removed later, yet here we are again! So what is the most effective way to tackle the root causes of the garbage threatening to overwhelm us?

Legislation is only effective if it is enforced and enforcement requires resources. With murders increasing year on year, and enhanced security measures being implemented in multiple locations and zones of special operations being established in divers places, will resources really be diverted from the 'fight against crime' to deal with people who smoke in public and the establishments that allow it to happen?

Health Minister Chris Tufton decided to tackle Jamaica's crisis of lifestyle diseases, and has opted to go the route of winning hearts and minds as the first phase in moving the public towards a healthier existence.

 

ATTRACT THE MASSES

 

We saw the average working Jamaican making the time and effort to get 30 minutes of movement per day. Tufton went further and created opportunities for us to get moving at no cost to us. All over the island, there were free, public workout sessions led by popular figures designed to attract the masses, and the minister himself was a very public participant in these sessions. He led from the front. The Jamaica Moves campaign had an arm in the schools, in communities, and in workplaces. It touched everyone right where they were. People got moving.

He then moved to tackle the related evil of high sugar consumption. He could have moved straight to legislation, getting a bill to Parliament to regulate sugar levels. But he opted for buy-in from stakeholders and voluntary reductions in sugar intake.

Consider another looming crisis facing Jamaica: garbage. We have a solid waste management authority that, up to two years ago, appeared unable to keep the Riverton landfill from being lit, causing awful air pollution. The agency appears unable to collect garbage with predictable regularity. Ad hoc dumps all over the island are now the norm.

We have a citizenry that appears to have grown comfortable with nastiness. There are those who litter with impunity, thinking nothing of throwing their waste out of vehicle windows. This is a public-health disaster waiting to happen.

 

Inevitable bad press

 

Improperly disposed garbage leads to breeding sites for mosquitoes and rats. Clogged drains cause millions of dollars in damage, resulting from flooding whenever it rains. As the country gets dirtier and dirtier, visitors will opt for cleaner, safer more beautiful destinations. How will we counter the inevitable bad press that will result from filthy, unkempt, unsafe and unsanitary tourist destinations? We know the linkage between a clean, orderly society and crime. So what will it take for us to effectively tackle the garbage monster?

Suppose the Jamaica Moves model were applied to solve the garbage problem? The first order of business would be to win hearts and minds above all else. The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has been fighting valiantly in its corner with a potentially effective and catchy message: 'Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica'. But unlike the approach taken by Jamaica Moves, the JET initiative is the proverbial cheese standing alone. If the Jamaica Moves model were to be applied in broad strokes to the garbage problem, here's what it would look like:

The move to clean up Jamaica would have a visible, high-profile sponsor. The minister himself was the face of Jamaica moves. All the literature on change management in organisations underscores the importance of sponsorship from the executive level when major change is required. The more radical and far-reaching the change, the more critical it is for all stakeholders to know that it is supported by the leader.

This makes it safe for them to step out of their comfort zone. This offers some sort of guarantee that the needed resources will be allocated appropriately in support of the desired change. Minister Tufton's visible sponsorship lent credibility and importance to the mission and inspired buy-in by the average person.

Then opportunities for stakeholders to do the right thing where waste management is concerned would have to be created, in much the same way that people who wanted to get moving were given opportunities to do just that. So bins and skips would have to be placed in accessible high-traffic areas. They would have to be maintained with regular, predictable collection schedules. Domestic waste would have to be collected with predictable frequency by the state agency responsible.

The 'Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica' message would have to be shared in schools, in communities and in workplaces. The link between order and cleanliness and crime reduction and national pride would have to be sold to the public in a repeated way, using data to support these assertions and in a way that appeals to our emotions, inspiring us to do better, much like the 'Are you drinking yourself sick?' has worked.

If all of this is done in a concerted way, enforcing existing legislation will not be an uphill task and this country will be well on its way to changing our present culture of as it relates to solid waste management.

- Kelly McIntosh is a procurement manager. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and kkmac218@gmail.com.