Sun | Sep 25, 2022

Fire threat remains at landfills

$480-million tyre-disposal project stalled

Published:Sunday | July 17, 2022 | 12:12 AMTyrone Reid - Associate Editor – Investigations
Top: In this September 2003 Gleaner file photo, firemen struggle to contain a raging inferno at the Riverton City landfill in St Andrew.
Top: In this September 2003 Gleaner file photo, firemen struggle to contain a raging inferno at the Riverton City landfill in St Andrew.
Audley Gordon, executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority.
Audley Gordon, executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority.
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A decade-long $480-million project to remove millions of old tyres from the island’s landfills and reduce the risk of hazardous fires has been stalled for several months.

Under a partnership with Caribbean Cement Company Limited (CCCL), the end-of-life pneumatic tyres, which were being stockpiled at landfills and could potentially release toxins into the atmosphere in the event of a fire, would be incinerated by the company and converted into an alternative source of fuel for its operations.

Some 900 tyres per day – or 4,500 weekly – should have been taken by CCCL.

The National Programme for the Environmentally Sound Management of End-of-Life Pneumatic Tyres was rolled out late last year, but the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), which manages the island’s disposal sites, revealed that not much has happened.

“The MOU (memorandum of understanding) has underperformed significantly. We didn’t complete the first tranche and we were moving below the per-day quota for reasons that were beyond the NSWMA’s control,” Executive Director Audley Gordon said last week, although he was not immediately able to say how many tyres have already been delivered to CCCL under the MOU.

“We started delivering some time in November. The programme has gone on pretty much in an inconsistent manner. There are downtimes when there are issues with the kiln at Cement Company. There are also issues where the weather would have intervened. Right now, we are not moving [any tyres]. There is no operation going on under the MOU,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

However, Gordon said the delivery of tyres to Caribbean Cement should resume this week as the company has asked for 2,000 tyres – fewer than half of the agreed weekly intake.

DECADES-LONG CHALLENGE

The stalled tyre-disposal programme has been some time in the making as the authorities have grappled with the problem for decades.

In July 2019, the Government partnered with CCCL to remove between 1.5 and two million old tyres from the Riverton City landfill. The partnership would have been initially facilitated under a 40-day pilot project before a full roll-out. The programme is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the NSWMA’s parent ministry.

CCCL had outlined plans to safely destroy the old tyres, which would be used to make clinker – a nodular material used as the binder in cement products.

Two years later, a further agreement was signed for CCCL to continue using the end-of-life pneumatic tyres by converting them into fuel, thereby reducing costs and making a positive impact on the environment.

The initiative was to be implemented on a phased basis, with the first phase beginning on July 1, 2021, targeting the over two million used tyres at the Riverton City disposal site. Phases two and three are scheduled to begin on July 1, 2026, and end on June 30, 2031, and would see seven other disposal sites being included.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness had celebrated the partnership, noting that it would provide a solution to the indiscriminate disposal of used tyres and the stockpiling concern at the landfills, which receive roughly 185,700 of the two million used tyres generated in Jamaica annually.

Plumes of smoke from burning tyres, including during a 2015 fire which lasted for more than a week at the Riverton site, have repeatedly impacted nearby communities. In December 2015, months after the massive blaze, then Local Government Minister Noel Arscott promised the full removal of tyres from the Riverton City landfill within a month, saying that they would be taken to a site approved by the National Environment and Planning Agency. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries was also said to be interested in using some of the discarded tyres as reefs.

Last week, the NSWMA boss noted that with the slow pace of the removal and the latest initiative also being stalled, there continues to be a consistent flow of old tyres rolling into disposal sites. More tyres were now being stockpiled than before the initiative began, he said.

“We would have loved for a far smoother, more frequent pull out of our stock. We wouldn’t mind if they could take all two million in one day,” said Gordon, noting the still-existing threat.

“We want to get rid of the tyres. This week, we had a fire at the disposal site and some of the tyres got caught in that fire. You should see the frantic rush to get that dealt with,” he said late last week.

$2 MILLION SPENT SO FAR

On its website, CCCL noted that under the 10-year national programme, it would safely destroy approximately 320,000 tyres a year to be used in its cement production. It noted that costs, which includes an inventory of the tyres and the sorting, handling, and transportation from disposal site to Caribbean Cement, would have been borne by the Government.

Gordon defended the $480-million price tag.

“The transportation costs over 10 years may sound high, but it is not as high as it sounds. And there’s also a loading part that you have to factor in; remember, we have to get the tyres on to the trucks. If you do the maths, over a 10-year period, you’ll see it is not as frightening as it sounds,” he said, revealing that approximately $2 million has been spent so far.

“In other words, we don’t get $480 million here. We get small tranches to do the thing as we do it, periodically,” he further explained.

The Sunday Gleaner has learnt that the contract for transporting the tyres to CCCL – which was awarded to Corgavanna Waste Management Limited – was not advertised.

Companies Office of Jamaica records revealed that Corgavanna Waste Management Limited, whose sole director and shareholder is Leon Bennett, was incorporated in April 2017 and has trucking services and haulage contractors listed as its core business.

“I am informed by my procurement director that the term used is restrictive bidding. This is where they invite people in, not something you advertise, and then you do your selection from that,” Gordon said.

Contacted by The Sunday Gleaner, Chad Bryan, CCCL’s communication and social impact coordinator, was not able to provide an update on the programme.

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com