Jamaica facing growing problem in the disposal of solid waste
Christopher Serju, Sunday Gleaner Reporter
Last year, just under 6,500 volunteers, coordinated by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), collected 65,563 pounds of garbage from more than 62 miles of coastline islandwide, to mark International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21.
The collected garbage included 27,000 plastic bottles and caps which were taken from a three-mile stretch along the Palisadoes strip.
"We made a visit to the site a few weeks later and there was garbage on the beach and we were amazed to see the amount we had missed. There is just so much waste, where is it all coming from?" asked Suzanne Stanley, programme director of JET, during the recent media launch for this year's staging of the annual event.
According to Stanley, each Jamaican generates about one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of waste each day, an amount which is expected to increase by six per cent each year, in a country with a population of approximately 2.7 million persons.
"Riverton (Riverton City dump in St Andrew) receives about 60 per cent of Jamaica's waste and there are other dump sites across Jamaica, not sanitary landfills, we must make that distinction. and they are all a challenge to manage," disclosed Stanley.
"There is no well-established recycling programme, there is no facility for the disposal of hazardous wastes or radioactive waste. Yes, there is radioactive waste in Jamaica and there is only one modern medical-waste facility in the island ... it's at the Ministry of Health in downtown Kingston, near KPH (Kingston Public Hospital)."
Despite the efforts of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), the state agency responsible for coordinating the collection and disposal of garbage, JET estimates that 300,000 tonnes of solid waste are dumped illegally each year.
In addition, several Jamaicans burn their garbage without any fear of sanctions, even though this is illegal.
"Some 38 per cent of Jamaicans burn their garbage because they have no alternative. Some, probably because they are lazy, and others because they are ignorant of the impact burning has on their health and the health of others, as well as the environment. Open burning is illegal, but that (law) is not actually enforced very well, so most persons get away with it without any penalty," declared Stanley as she explained what happens as a result of this action.
"Most of it (garbage) appliances, cars, tyres end up in drains, in gullies, in rivers and it causes public-health issues and flooding before it travels by these channels to our coasts. Solid waste is usually a site for breeding mosquitoes and this, linked with public-health issues, is a big concern to us.
"So a lot of this waste that travels through our gullies ends up on the coastlines where we - recreational users of the beach - sometimes encounter it. Once the waste enters the coastal environmental, it impacts on marine life and is very difficult to deal with, so intercepting it at the beach site is the last chance we get to remove the garbage before it enters the ocean," she explained.
It is for this reason that come Saturday, September 20, JET will again coordinate the local effort to clean up beaches across Jamaica, the importance of which was brought up to journalists during a stop on the grounds of the Norman Manley International Airport, in the vicinity of the go-kart track, on the way back form the Port Royal Marine Lab where International Coastal Cleanup Day 2014 was launched.
Plastic wash basins, a computer monitor, refrigerators, drink bottles, and styrofoam containers were visible on the shoreline while an onshore garbage site with several aerosol cans was also seen.
It was obvious that the garbage had been dumped and there was evidence that the pile had been burnt repeatedly in contravention of the law.
Several initiatives to prevent the wanton dumping of plastic bottles have been launched locally with the latest being 'Recycle Now Jamaica'.
Launched in May, Recycle Now Jamaica is spearheaded by the Government and leaders in the manufacturing industry who have come together to form a non-profit, public/private organisation called Recycling Partners of Jamaica.
The initiative involves an islandwide campaign to collect plastic bottles using depositories at four strategically selected sites.
This, added to efforts by JET and private-sector entities, including Earth Wise Recycling, Jamaica Recyclers, and Plastic Recyclers of Jamaica, which have spent years pushing for the proper disposal of the pesky bottles.
Plastic bottles top garbage list
Plastic, in all its various forms, continues to be the major solid-waste item improperly disposed of locally. This is borne out in the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) 2013 report on its activities for International Coastal Cleanup Day, which listed the top-10 waste items collected. Holding the number one spot was plastic drink bottles which Jamaicans use and discard without regard for the potential environmental impact.
According to JET, volunteers collected:
Plastic beverage bottles: 115,460
Pieces of plastic smaller than 2.5 centimetres: 29,119
Plastic cups/plates: 10,197
Foam cups/plates: 15,921
Plastic grocery bags: 14,322
Plastic bottle caps: 44,674
Plastic bags: 22,623
Glass beverage bottles: 16,494
Food wrappers: 15,774
Pieces of foam, smaller than 2.5 centimetres.