Instead of focusing entirely on the upcoming budget, we should pay closer attention to the changes we need and can secure without money being a problem.
That’s necessary given how much is spent badly, inefficiently, corruptly and unsustainably, and will continue to be. It also takes forward-thinking decisions out of the hands of the Finance Minister, and puts them instead into people-driven adaptation, for which low oil price isn’t an excuse.
For example, door-to-door collection of recyclables, and the start up of a downstream industry using recycled plastics needs to happen, and happen now. And, it can, with little extra cost to the state.
There is already a National Waste Recycling Policy and a Local Government-level Integrated Solid Waste/Resource Management Policy. A national Waste Recycling Management Authority needs to be established, and its functions and powers formalised by a Waste Recycling Act. Notice also that the Beverage Container Bill has never become law, and needs to be.
The icebergs will have melted away before all these laws, policies and authorities are finally in place, and are effective. I dare anyone to disagree.
Instead of waiting out bureaucratic lag, the government needs to wake up and realize we cannot wait. At this point, everything is being dumped all over our precious islands in what is the dead worst approach to garbage; an approach which countries from Finland to Barbados have already left behind.
The only post-consumer recycling we do is collected by one truck, now supported by Massy Stores and run by NGO Plastikeep, from 70 bins and 26 collection points, only in North-West Trinidad. Of that, what is exportable goes, the rest wastes.
Starting September 30, the government can insist on an effective national programme of public education about what, when and how to recycle. This can be supported by the Green Fund, and rely on NGOs who have expertise in public education about recycling and who are ready to start this work. The money is available, and meant for this purpose.
The point isn’t just to educate about plastic collection, but about a different approach to waste management, which will cost little, and indeed cost us less in the long run, and in which everyone from poor to rich can participate.
Here, an education simulation centre, which can teach a generation about the process from beginning to end, separation of cans and glass bottles, and what a low-waste outcome looks like for two tiny islands, is worthwhile, but we cannot wait on that either.
The same garbage trucks that currently operate can be used to collect garbage on Mondays and Fridays, even Saturdays, and recyclables from Tuesdays to Thursdays. All that is needed is for the same trucks to be power-washed on Monday nights, and rolled out the next day.
Garbage collection should really be the responsibility of Local Government, and relevant officials know this, but the struggle between SWMCOL and Local Government can work itself in and out of knots while we get on with what is necessary.
All the plastic recyclables can be taken to a sorting and cleaning warehouse, which could indeed be run by SWMCOL. Useful plastic material could then go to a private sector venture which will turn plastics that cannot be exported for use into plastic lumber for sale on the local and wider market. Jobs will be created with minimal public sector investment, and eventually when these plastic downstream products are bringing a profit, the supply of plastic from door-to-door collection can be bought by such businesses. I’m not advocating for a plastics industry that uses non-renewable resources, only recycled ones.
Burning garbage to create energy is an approach that has been batted about Cabinet. However, keep in mind that wherever this is practiced, what is burned is not all garbage, but garbage that cannot be otherwise recycled, turned into new products or exported. The absolute majority of garbage is recyclable so beware of big-money, but quick and dirty solutions, which do not see energy recovery as the fourth ‘r’, after reduce, reuse and recycle.
Imagine this vision becoming real within one year. Now, tell everyone, from the Prime Minister to your next councilors as they campaign, it must and it can.
See a response below:
Dear Ms. Hosein,
I would like to commend you on your very insightful article in today’s Guardian. You are spot on as it relates to everything that has to be done to inculcate a recycling psyche amongst the nation. I would like to take the opportunity to advise you about some recent initiatives that have been undertaken which can be seen as a step in the right direction:
- The Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation has embarked on a pilot curbside recycling project in conjunction with SWMCOL. This project has recently been expanded to include 15 new areas. In this program one of the collection days is set aside for the pickup of recyclables only, and these recyclables are brought to our processing station in Port-Of-Spain, where it is separated and processed for sale to recycling markets.
- Apart from the Plastikeep project, the EMA also has a recyclable collection operation known as ICare. In this operation, there are bins placed at strategic points throughout the country where individuals can drop off their recyclable material.
- SWMCOL also had recently established a Material Recovery Facility at its Guanapo Landfill, where recyclables can be pulled off from the garbage when it comes onto the site, thereby reducing the quantity of waste requiring disposal.
- We are also currently working with the business community as well as the Universities to develop local options for recycling rather than to ship recyclable waste to foreign markets.
Whilst there is still a very long way to go, we are heartened by the small accomplishments that have been made thus far. We hope that through these efforts we can also convince government of the need for legislation to support proper waste management. However, it is only through efforts such as yours in spreading the message of waste management, will the public understand the issues involved and put pressure on their MP’s and ministers to effect change. In this regard, I would like to thank you sincerely, and to encourage you to keep on spreading your message.
I would be happy to discuss this and any other issues further with you should the need arise.
Chief Executive Officer
Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste
Management Company Limited