Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Rolling in rubbish - Urgent action needed to address Jamaica's solid waste management challenges

Published:Sunday | July 23, 2017 | 7:00 AM
Stephanie A. Cameron
Audley Gordon, executive director of the NSWMA, points to a section of the Riverton landfill.
Household waste disposed of carelessly on Hanover Street in downtown Kingston.
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Dealing with the problem of household solid waste in Jamaica appears to be more of a management issue than a technical one.

As such, much pressure is placed on the already limited resources of local authorities to provide this local service. Developing countries like Jamaica have seen a gradual increase in the volume being generated and equally being disposed of.

These practices are compromising the public's health and air quality, polluting waterways and blocking drains.

The literature reviewed is suggesting that solid waste minimisation at the household level is very achievable but it is highly stakeholder-centric. Its successes are dependent on the willingness of the householder to participate and own the various solid waste minimisation methods, supported by a strong policy and regulatory frameworks.

In Jamaica, household solid waste minimisation and separation needs to be mandatory. Other jurisdictions with similar solid waste management issues have employed institutional, regulatory and legislatively minimisation techniques within their overall frameworks.

Technically, the behaviour of the populace must be trained. This solution is geared towards waste diversion from landfills and having residents assuming a more active role in environmental responsibilities for a healthier environment and better management of our intended sanitary landfills.

By its engagement in waste reduction initiatives, the United States has realised a 20 to 70 per cent or 82 million tonnes of waste reduction through recycling, reuse, incineration, composting, change in consumption patterns and behavioural attitudes of householders.

The garbage is collected on a specific day at a specific time and if any of the listed forbidden items are placed in the wrong bin, it is not collected, and if there are any changes to the operations, residents are notified in the post.

 

Unawareness

 

In a more local context, waste receptacles targeting the collection of plastic bottles are seen all over the University of West Indies, Mona, Jamaica campus. The successes so far are difficult to ascertain as there is still a widespread unawareness with regard to the project.

Worthy of note is the fact that prior to the National Solid Waste Management Act being actualised, the National Solid Waste Management Policy had recognised that the volume of solid waste was an issue and sought to address this with the introduction of incentivised programmes.

The gap analysis of this policy shows that there were institutional and regulatory framework challenges and shortcomings.

As it stands, the municipal corporations (formerly parish councils) pay the National Solid Waste Management (NSWMA) for the collection of domestic solid waste while businesses pay the waste collectors for collection of their refuse, and they are charged a tipping fee at the waste disposal sites.

This is not economically viable as the municipal corporations only benefit from about 50 per cent compliance rate.

There is the understanding that the policy requires a comprehensive review to not only mandate residents to take a more active role in household solid waste management but also to incorporate the new policy direction.

The law specifies that the NSWMA can institute measures to encourage waste reduction and resource recovery but there is no mention of householders to practise waste minimisation.

In order to increase public participation, there is the need to ensure that incentives are attractive to do so, while the sanctions also encourage the populace to want to refrain from doing otherwise.

The only set of regulations that currently govern the waste sector is the National Solid Waste Management Authority (Public Cleanliness) Regulations. It is a supplement to the NSWMA Act 2001 with a special focus on section 53 of the act, which comprises two schedules that give a breakdown of the penalties to be charged given the stated offences with regard to the Fix Penalty Notice.

Notably, this focuses on littering in public spaces and is inadequate, limited and offers no place for household waste minimisation.

 

Regulations on proper garbage disposal

 

Again, this proposed policy presents the opportunity for the development of regulations specific to how residents dispose of their solid wastes, thereby increasing their environmental responsibility and civic involvement.

Since taking office in 2016, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has echoed his intentions to implement a comprehensive waste disposal management plan complemented by a programme.

It is expected to include waste separation (degradable from non-degradable) and the conversion of Riverton City Landfill into a waste to energy operation.

It is therefore suggestive of a change in the thought process of the policymakers, but unfortunately, it is not sanctioned via a policy or within the ambit of the regulations.

Borrowing the popular Bible saying, "the poor we shall always have with us", is indicative of the solid waste issues faced by developing countries such as Jamaica.

If not managed properly it can become an unpleasant sight and undesirable management problem.

The various scholarly perspectives of the subject matter theorise that sustainable solid waste management calls for a stakeholder-centric approach, given the fact that this problem is growing daily, especially in the urban areas of the island.

People's cooperation is the most vital aspect in solid waste minimisation activities as habits and attitudes of residents are difficult to alter and it affects the overall waste management system.

Householders' active role in the disposal of their own garbage is important, in that it potentially brings them to a sense of responsibility for their environment while increasing their civic pride.

While all may not be in place for the adoption of waste minimisation at the household level, some residents already practise some aspects of these waste behaviours but are so infrequently practised.

Nevertheless, it is attainable.

- Stephanie A. Cameron is an urban planner and a master's student in the International Public and Development Management Programme in the Department of Government at the UWI. Feedback: sann.cameron@gmail.com or editorial@gleanerjm.com