A summary of the main issues in no particular order:
1) We have no sanitary landfills in Jamaica. All our dumps are basically piles of unsorted garbage under management which ranges from non-existent to poor.
2) Presumably I don’t have to go into detail about the threats to public health, which are well known.
3) I checked about three weeks ago about the legality of our dumps, when I saw a staff member from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) say on TV that Riverton had its permits in place – in fact, it did not at the time. So to the best of my knowledge, all our dumps are still operating without the permits required by law.
4) Our dumps are largely unsecured – which is to say, people live in close proximity or even on the dump itself. Access is virtually open, which is why arson is difficult to prevent. The dumps provide income generating opportunities for a large number of people working in the most disgraceful and dangerous conditions. In some cases, squatting has been tolerated for political reasons. In others, government housing has been built far too close to the dumps. This is the hurdle we don’t want to face – waste disposal sites CANNOT be properly managed with people living on or close to them and having uncontrolled access.
5) Jamaica began the transformation to a non-biodegradable waste stream in the mid-1990s without a thought to how the waste was to be handled. In fact, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) ran a “no to plastic bottles” campaign in the 1990s which attracted nothing but ridicule and failed to stop the plastic tsunami we are now struggling with. This is how we do things – without consideration, without forward planning, without resources to deal with the consequences.
6) Both NEPA and National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) are regulatory bodies. Incredibly, NSWMA is expected to regulate itself. A large underlying problem is the unwillingness of any state agency to take enforcement action (beyond letters and meetings) against another state agency, even if operating under a law which binds the crown, as does the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA).
7) While the inability to manage our waste is a governance failure of both political administrations, we Jamaicans also contribute to the scale and seriousness of the problem. We seem to believe that we have a human right to receive garbage collection with maximum personal convenience for any amount or type of waste. If this does not happen, we bleat on talk shows or write letters to the press, but do nothing to reduce our waste. We also burn, litter, dump in rivers and watercourses, picnic on beaches and leave our lunch boxes right there on the beach we say we love.
8) Every dump fire is treated as if it is unconnected to a long and unbroken chain of management failures. Rhetoric is about bringing each fire ‘under control’. Those most affected even thank the very agencies which have allowed the conditions that encourage dump fires, as they battle to put out the fires, using scarce resources that are somehow unavailable for prevention.
9) Waste management technologies are not new. They are tested. There are many. They can be observed in action all over the world. Here in Jamaica, we have discussed all of them in tedious and repetitive workshops, rambling and inconclusive meetings and we have announced zero tolerance actions from many a lectern. Voluminous reports exist. Action, however, continues to elude us.
10) Lastly, fellow Jamaicans, roughly 60% of our waste is organic, and by that I mean, compostable. If you are going to do one thing – I beg you, start a compost heap in your home, apartment complex, community, market or farm. No truck should be carrying leaves, peelings and grass to our dumps. Perhaps the state agencies which seem so incapable of fixing this problem, or even making meaningful progress on it, would have an easier time if there was less garbage to collect, transport, process and store.