For the umpteenth time, this newspaper is calling attention to the wanton disposal of litter, which is threatening to worsen the scar on the nation's face that today resembles a huge garbage dump.
Rat infestation is just one of the health and environmental problems caused by the litter that is steadily accumulating on our streets, highways, and in public spaces. Another consequence of littering is that much of the garbage finds its way into our rivers, to the detriment of marine life.
The eyes of Local Government Minister Noel Arscott have finally been opened to the dire state of garbage disposal and ineffective collection after a recent visit to Spanish Town, where he observed vendors discarding rubbish at will. The minister's solution to get compliance is to introduce sharper fines for persons who litter. But do threats of fines really work? Is this the solution to a grave social and environmental problem?
Even though offenders face a maximum fine of $2,000 for breaches such as urinating in public, under the National Solid Waste Management Act, offenders may be fined up to $1 million for some infractions such as tampering, destroying, removing, and defacing garbage receptacles.
"We have not used the full extent of the law as we have really been trying to encourage compliance rather than going through the courts," was the explanation given by Jennifer Edwards, politician-turned-head of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), when she addressed a press conference about a year ago.
So, Minister, there you have it. The laws are already there, and even if fines were to be increased, we still need to enforce the law if it is determined that punishment is the answer to our problems.
While promising to increase fines, Mr Arscott said he would begin with a public education programme. We endorse this and suggest that the programme begin in schools and continue with the police and the NSWMA enforcement and community officers who are not doing a good job in communicating the kinds of messages that would encourage individuals to take personal responsibility for disposing of waste. And they certainly are not apprehending enough of the culprits to make an impact on the majority.
In fact, in some communities, the dreadful practice of plastering graffiti on public buildings has re-emerged recently because it seems nothing that the authorities are doing now is sufficient to curb the local throwaway culture.
As we have advocated time and again, waste management involves much more than garbage collection and disposal. The NSWMA is failing to fulfil its mandate to be a comprehensive waste-management agency.
We submit that, until the authorities recognise the need to assemble a professional and competent team with the expertise to develop appropriate methodologies for waste management, this problem will persist. Ministers will make announcements, there will be editorial comment, but those efforts will go the way of all previous ones: nowhere.
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