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Solid Waste – CHAMPIONS!!!

May 03 2016 - by Dr. David Lee, CLP's Environment Specialist

Many of us long-suffering West Indies cricket fans celebrated the Women’s, Men’s and Under-19 Boys T20 World Cup victories with the dance and shout of CHAMPION.  Unfortunately, the Caribbean it appears is also the undisputed champion Region of the world in terms of solid waste generation. A World Bank document reported in Caribbean 360 shows that the Caribbean countries are among the biggest generators of trash in the world, per capita. Six (6) of the twelve (12) countries participating in the Caribbean Leadership Project are in the top ten (10) producers of trash on this planet.  A dubious distinction and certainly doesn’t evoke the same celebrations as did the recent West Indies cricket exploits! 

The World Bank defines municipal solid waste as including non-hazardous waste generated in households, commercial and business establishments, institutions, and non-hazardous industrial process wastes, agricultural wastes and sewage sludge. In practice, specific definitions vary across jurisdictions. 

The CLP Champions League table looks like this:

 CLP Champions League Table

 

The World Bank statistics show that the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago generates 14.4 kilogrammes of municipal solid waste per capita per day – (twelve)12 times the world average of 1.2 kg. On island nations, a vexing issue confronting us is where do we put our solid wastes? Our land mass is already being stretched between competition for housing, agriculture, industry and commerce, tourism, etc.  Finding space for the final resting place for our garbage can be quite a conundrum.  It is therefore notable that five (5) of the (6) Caribbean countries to make the top ten (10) garbage producers in the world can least afford the solid waste that we generate.

Recycling and reuse initiatives in managing solid waste are important in reducing the volume of trash that has to be disposed of in dumps and landfills. This is a very important strategy in preserving our land for efforts that will drive growth and development in our countries. Alas, none of our Caribbean countries can boast of having significant and sustained recycling, reuse, reduction efforts in the management of our solid wastes.

It is also interesting to note that if we rank the countries using GDP, which can be used as an indicator of consumption, the trend (with the exception of Guyana) is that the countries mirror the garbage producing ranking.  It can be said that the production of wastes is related and influenced by the consumption patterns of the society. Therefore, development and growth is not without its downsides. Sustainable development and growth cannot occur without taking solid waste management into account.

Some components of solid waste have far reaching effects on our lives and livelihood, for example:

  • Plastics - are especially harmful to a variety of sea life that include sea gulls, turtles, and fish. They are long lived and stay in our dumps and landfills for centuries taking up valuable space.  Garbage not finding its way into our dumps eventually end up in the sea.
  • Litter - solid waste that doesn’t make its way to the dumps can assist with mosquito reproduction and mosquito borne diseases like chikungunya, zika, malaria and dengue.  Litter can result in clogged drains and exacerbate flooding from heavy rainfall.  Not to mention that unmanaged solid wastes usually harbours pests such as rats, which help to spread diseases like leptospirosis.
  • Leachate - water percolating its way through garbage (even in dumps) produce leachate. Leachate from improperly designed and managed dumps and landfills percolate into our ground and surface water causing pollution. Fresh water for human consumption is valuable and will become more valuable as climate change predictions for the Caribbean is for more serious prolonged drought. Water pollution is by no means limited to land, ocean pollution and the welfare of the marine environment are among the most pressing public health concerns. Coral reefs which play a great part in the tourism product of the Region is threatened by this marine pollution caused by ineffective solid waste management.
  • Hazardous materials - it is common place that waste oils, batteries, paints are deposited in our garbage which is serious enough in terms of leachates.  However, when our dumps are prone to outbreaks of dangerous fires. These often result in contaminating the surrounding area with toxic materials such as dioxins and heavy metals like lead, mercury and vanadium. The effects are not only from short lived smoke inhalation which can cause serious discomfort and death to persons with asthma, but can have long lasting detrimental effects on health like cancers and on the mental and physical development of children.

Can we seriously speak about national development without speaking about trash?

Does your country adequately manage its solid waste generation, collection and disposal?  If not, why not?

Does your country have recycling, reuse, reduction solid waste management programmes?  If not, why not?

Does your country take into consideration solid waste management as part of its growth and development strategy?  If not, why not?

As a public sector leader, what will you do to make sure that solid waste management becomes integrated with our growth and development initiatives?