One man’s garbage is another’s gold
As thick plumes of smoke billowed into the darkening skies over the Riverton City dump in western St Andrew Tuesday, a woman named Sister Pinky looked on with relief that she had, just last week, sold her cache of plastic bottles stored there....
As thick plumes of smoke billowed into the darkening skies over the Riverton City dump in western St Andrew Tuesday, a woman named Sister Pinky looked on with relief that she had, just last week, sold her cache of plastic bottles stored there.
That would have vanished in flames as sections of the eastern end of the landfill were turned into a mini-furnace as firefighters and personnel from the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) battled the afternoon blaze.
Sister Pinky is a key cog in the ecosystem of the Riverton City dump, one of an army of ‘pickers’ who rummage through the garbage tossed out by Corporate Area households that they turn into gold.
The near-100-acre dust bowl might not be a poster site for environmentally responsible recycling but pickers keep many families afloat and hungry bellies well fed.
Sister Pinky earned $23,000 from the 10 bales she had offloaded last week.
“Me sell last week, or else me woulda bawl right yah now,” Sister Pinky said.
Others were not so lucky.
That included an elderly woman who desperately sought to drag thousands of bottles to safety. But that rescue effort would have required the deployment of five trucks, Sister Pinky theorised.
Another man is estimated to be at risk of losing $200,000 in bottles.
“Me a pray to God say him nuh lose dem ‘cause a whole heap o’ work. Him walk far fi save him bottle dem out of the rubbish and put dem pon a clear piece of land,” she said.
Sister Pinky said she has been living in Riverton for the past 17 years and depends on the bottles for income.
She can’t survive solely off her core job as a pig farmer, having to wait as long as a year for the animals to mature.
The residents say that exposure to open flame can quickly cause materials to ignite.
Sister Pinky told The Gleaner that she prevented a fire just last week after a man threw away a cigarette butt.
“It drop on a piece of cardboard and if I wasn’t approaching it, it would reach far. When I stomped on the cardboard, it spark and the breeze blow it, and when mi think it done, it’s a mattress me see a blaze,” Sister Pinky said.
Wincella Cummings, financial controller for Recycling Partners of Jamaica, told The Gleaner that the plastic bottles cost $50 per kilogram.
That translates to a cost of $20 per pound if RPOJ does collections and $25 if the residents make their own deliveries.
Executive director of the NSWMA, Audley Gordon, said it is not desirable to have people on disposal sites because it compromises the security of the dump.
“We have all sort of activities on the site on a given day. We don’t want people getting into the space. One of the realities around our country is that all of our disposal sites have pickers on there and we try to get them to do it in an orderly fashion as best we can,” Gordon said of the economic reality.
He is also cognisant that the dump is a source of income generation for residents living on the margins.
“They are there and we know they are there. We try to work with them as orderly as possible, though we think it’s not a desirable activity,” Gordon told The Gleaner.
Late Tuesday, Gordon said that as nightfall approached, there was a significant reduction in smoke emission that started some time after 1 p.m.
Gordon said two sections of the Riverton dump were engulfed in flames and that one had been suppressed.
“What we basically doing now is racing to cover all the areas so that we can kill the smoke,” the executive director said.
An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the fire.