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Jamaica needs waste-disposal policy - ODPEM

Published:Monday | March 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Petre Williams-Raynor, Contributing Editor

THE OFFICE of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has pointed to the need for a comprehensive waste-disposal policy for the island, following the most recent fire at the problem-plagued Riverton City dump in the capital.

Acting Director General Richard Thompson said the policy would address the development of properly engineered landfills for the island's major towns as well as "recycling, garbage separation, management of the landfills and a public education campaign around waste management".

"Other aspects of waste management, including the extraction of methane that comes about from the natural breakdown of waste, especially your kitchen waste, would also be covered," he told The Gleaner.

Riverton fire

The most recent fire at Riverton has attracted the ire of environmental advocates who insist it is past time that a solution to Riverton - and Jamaica's solid waste disposal challenges generally - is found.

"The situation should not revert to business as usual once the fire is out. The three government ministries with oversight responsibility for solid waste management - health, local government and environment - must ensure that urgent steps are taken to bring the Riverton dump into compliance with our environmental laws and the recent permits issued by the National Environment and Planning Agency," the Jamaica Environment Trust said in a March 20 press release.

The most recent fire — which cost an estimated $30 million to douse — started on March 16 and affected five acres of land at the site.

It also prompted renewed concerns for the health of residents of the Kingston Metropolitan Area due to compromised air quality and Jamaica's decades-old struggle with waste management islandwide.

"In looking at the present situation [at Riverton], it is difficult to manage. You are talking about over 100 acres of land, it is unfenced so now you have a security concern and you get any and everyone coming on the disposal site," Thompson noted.

Access control

Immediate next steps, he suggested, ought to include ramping up controls at the site to ensure that only authorised individuals have access and prescribe what they have access to, even as the island moves toward the development of the policy.

Minister of Local Government and Community Development Noel Arscott, for his part, said a policy without regulations would be toothless.

"The draft regulations to deal with how we deal with garbage are with the Chief Parliamentary Counsel. I don't want to enunciate a policy that cannot be implemented because of a lack of regulation to enforce it," he told The Gleaner last week.

At the same time, Arscott suggested that current priorities rest with recycling and waste to energy.

"The general direction, having consulted numerous entities, is really to utilise the recycling," he said. "As our energy bill soars as a per cent of our economy ... we are aggressively pursuing waste-to-energy initiatives that will deal with the way we deal with garbage."

"We are in serious negotiations with a number of parties to do a waste-to-energy facility, both at Riverton and Retirement," the minister added.

The expectation, he said, is that an agreement will be reached by year end.

Meanwhile, concerning Riverton and other disposal sites, Arscott said: "We have in fact now, as we speak, a amount of initiatives of garbage separation which should reduce the amount of stuff going to the disposal sites."