Talking trash

Some friends and I were out this morning when we came across a familiar site in Jamaica: the often-thrown-away plastic bottle. A pile of such specimens was lying in the grass, quietly basking in the sun. I went to look at them; they were quite young as they had fresh wrappers that had not been much affected by the heavy rain showers yesterday. I wondered if more of the specimens were nearby: I found a little group of them hiding in bushes close the pile. I pulled them out and put them with the others in the pile. My lady friend covered her eyes, and held her head. “These people!” she cried. Why can’t they keep their PETs at home?

I did not know the answer.

The website for Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) contains the disarmingly clear statement about waste management:

The management of all wastes poses serious environmental problems in Jamaica. Solid waste collection and disposal operations present many serious environmental, public health, social and liability problems and risks.

The country has problems knowing what to do with garbage and actually doing sensible things with garbage.garbage jamaica In the same area where I saw the PETs, I know many trash collection bins exists. However, those that I found filled to overflowing on Monday morning last week, after a weekend of recreation, were still full on Thursday of the same week. Either someone responsible for clearing the bins does not see the problem. Or they see the problem and do not care to deal with it. Or they see the problem and have no means to deal with it. Or they don’t see the problem, because they have no regular process of checking.

Anyone, with good intentions, therefore, taking their PETs for a walk, may find they have nowhere to rest them when they are tired and used. So, they just toss them away. Of course, they could take them home and dispose of them there. But, that’s not how people here operate.

Whether it’s PETs or styrofoam food boxes, the results are similar.

NEPA notes that bad collection and disposal of garbage pose pollution hazards on air, in land and or sea. It notes that public ignorance of proper waste disposal.

It’s easy to see what’s wrong. Just go by a gully and take a look in. You will see the debris that flows around the city of Kingston. Much is material such as plastics (bottles, bags), foam (food boxes), appliances (fridges, other metal objects), foliage (cut and broken branches and leaves). When it rains, these float down the inclines and much ends up in Kingston Harbour. Lovely!

Like much in Jamaica that needs fixing, it’s hard to not see the problem. But, fixing it seems to have defied those in charge.

Garbage builds up in my home, much like anyone else’s and I am struck by how little I can avoid putting into a waste disposal bag. I admit to having been spoilt by living in the USA, and their new fangled ideas about recycling. Here’s what could go into the garbage each week.

  • Newspapers–nothing collected regularly for municipal or private recycling [But, a scheme to help a non-profit is getting these to recycle.]
  • Glass bottles–nothing collected regularly for municipal or private recycling [Beer bottles can be returned to regain their deposits. Other glass bottles? Nothing collected.]
  • Plastic bottles–a collection point is close to home
  • Food waste–nothing collected regularly for municipal or private recycling [Best efforts to save somethings for ‘doggie bags’]
  • Garden waste–nothing collected regularly for municipal or private recycling [Neighbour has built compost heap, but very selective about what goes into it, given concerns about vermin and other pests.]

So, most things go to the dumps, and we are people who try to minimize garbage.

I’ve stopped banging my head. Time to gear up on personal and community action.