Sun | Dec 11, 2016

That's utter rubbish!

Published:Friday | October 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Dr Wykeham McNeill (left) assists the ministry's Danielle Patterson (centre) and volunteer Dr Lorraine Lewis to remove trash from a clean-up site along the Palisadoes main road on International Coastal Clean-up Day, Saturday, September 20.

Diana McCaulay, Contributor

GIVEN THE clear public-health crisis facing us, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) would like to offer some insights into attitudes held by many Jamaicans towards waste .

We have been conducting beach clean-ups, solid waste education and recycling collection programmes for more than 20 years. In addition, with recent funding from the Tourism Enhancement Fund for public education on the impacts of carelessly discarded garbage on the coast, JET is holding focus groups on this national problem. Our sample size is small and limited to hospitality workers, so we do not claim scientific certainty, but we believe the findings below are indicative.

You can throw garbage anywhere if a goat will eat it - This demonstrates beliefs that were appropriate 50 years ago, before our waste stream was transformed by plastic and other forms of non-biodegradable packaging.

Littering creates jobs - We were told many times that someone is paid to pick up garbage. We also regard garbage collection as a low-status occupation and regard anyone so employed with disdain.

I am entitled to a bin - There must be a garbage bin available as soon as I need one. If not, I am entitled to throw waste in the street because I will not walk with garbage in my hand. I am also not prepared to keep garbage in my car.

Government must pick it up - Jamaicans accept responsibility for the creation of waste, but paradoxically, not for its management or disposal. Once garbage is put in the street, either formally or informally, it is considered to be Government's problem. In other words, we accept responsibility for yard, but not street.

My one cup can't be a problem - We know we have solid waste problems, but we do not appreciate the scope and scale. We also are aware of the health risks, but we are not fully aware of the impacts to places outside of our communities, such as beaches, gullies or dumps. To a very great degree, we no longer see how dirty our island is.

All garbage is the same - We are only just beginning to understand that different types of waste can and should be handled differently.

Reduce waste? Say what? - We are a long way from considering changing personal consumption patterns to reduce waste.

Finally, there was a strong consensus that unless there is adequate garbage infrastructure - bins, skips and regular garbage collection - no amount of public education will result in any significant change in our waste-disposal habits.