Jamaica has been suffering from extreme environmental abuse and degradation for many, many years. So the headline 'Jamaica is swimming in garbage' (Gleaner, August 25, 2014) would have been greeted with the perfunctory shrug of the shoulders.
And when television news focused on the debris-choked gullies and general garbage pile-up in the Hanover capital, Lucea, it was most likely met with the same kind of indifference. Graphically written stories about garbage-infested towns could fill many news pages because it is that prevalent.
The first thing to recognise is that citizens must take some of the blame for improper disposal of waste. But it is also clear that none of the parish councils and municipalities is properly equipped to carry out their substantive responsibility of keeping towns and cities clean.
Our streets are littered with non-biodegradable plastic bottles, Styrofoam containers, food wrappers, and 'scandal bags'. Meanwhile, the stench of untreated sewage creates an environmental nightmare. Negligently discarded trash is not only an eyesore; it can do harm to wild and marine life too.
We need look no further than the markets to recognise the high level of resigned indifference to the state of Jamaica. Market vendors and the shoppers who patronise them carry on a lively trade surrounded by mounds of debris and the flies they attract, and sometimes there are pools of stagnant water. It does not seem to bother anyone.
In early 2013, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce announced that it was working on a management plan for the proper disposal of the capital city's garbage with the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation. From all appearances, this plan was stillborn because there is no discernible improvement in garbage disposal or collection. The big stink is still a factor of life in the metropolis.
The country owes a debt of gratitude to environmentalists such as the Jamaica Environment Trust, which, year after year, has been mobilising volunteers to help clean up trash left on our beaches by inconsiderate people for whom not even the threat of prosecution for littering has proven to be a deterrent.
This year, International Coastal Clean-up Day is September 20. It is a praiseworthy effort and, symbolic as it is, we are patently aware that what will be collected on that day will be a drop in the bucket. There needs to be a well-coordinated effort to ensure a measure of continuity, for it will require many days of collecting trash to effect the kind of result required to make Jamaica clean and livable for its people and attractive for visitors.
What will it take to increase awareness about the long-term impact of garbage on human health and the environment?
Those old enough may remember the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce's Clean as a Whistle campaign in the 1970s. With imagination and creativity, the committee, chaired by businessman Sameer Younis, achieved success in its efforts by creating a kind of consciousness among citizens, which meant fewer persons were randomly disposing of their garbage. Is it possible to rekindle that '70s attitude?
Proper disposal of garbage should be a natural part of our lives as stewards of planet Earth.
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