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THE NEXT 50 years - Fix the garbage problem - Introduce plastic and paper recycling

Published:Monday | December 3, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica continues to celebrate 50 years of Independence. We have achieved a lot. However, there is much work left to be done if we are to progress as a country. We must begin to tackle Jamaica's chronic problems in a targeted and sustained way to make this country a better place to live, work and grow families. The Next 50 Years, a special Gleaner series, will spotlight some of the challenges we must fix in the coming years. We want to hear from you. Email us at and join the debate.

THE WEBSITE of the National Environment and Planning Agency reveals that 2,775 tonnes of municipal waste is daily generated in Jamaica. This works out to about 2.2 pounds per person, per day.

In addition, 5,310 tonnes of ship-generated waste arrives every day, and 572 tonnes of industrial waste is produced daily.

Kingston Harbour is dead, and one legacy we leave is sea-floor sludge containing an accumulation of decades of toxic industrial waste which can kill our great-grandchildren.

Jamaica has fairly good environmental laws; our problem is implementation.

Polluting wells

At Independence, Jamaica's solid waste was piled on the surface of garbage dumps. Today, we speak of landfills, because the new approach is to dig a hole, tip some garbage in, cover it with soil, then tip more garbage in with more soil, and so on. Landfills are an improvement over dumps, but they are expensive to operate properly. Dangerous liquids from garbage can leach into aquifers underneath the landfill, polluting wells and eventually flowing into the sea.

When rain falls on a landfill, water percolates through the garbage, dissolving harmful substances on the way to aquifers, having a similar effect.

What is called for are 'sanitary landfills', where the bottom is sealed with some imper-vious material.

Much of the waste can be recycled. Almost no glass bottles or scrap metal (both of which can be converted into cash) are being deposited at the landfill. There are companies which bale plastic waste and export it; their problem is collection. Imagine if there was a refundable deposit on plastic bottles.

The technology for recycling paper is well known, but is not in commercial use here. Government should introduce plastic and paper recycling. Incentives should be offered to the private sector to get into this business.