Post 228.

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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Regards,

Ronald Roach

Chief Executive Officer

Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste

Management Company Limited

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Post 208.

As Ziya rolled in sandy ebb and flow at Maracas’ shoreline, a handful of friendly girls suddenly encircled us with a swirl of brown arms and legs. They drew Zi in, reaching for her hand, and asking her to go jump deeper into the waves.  A few brought Styrofoam cups to scoop up water and sand, throw in the air, and catch as they swept by amidst incoming foam. ‘Make sure not to leave the cups in the ocean’, I gently cautioned, ‘they will pollute the sea. ‘Auntie, what does pollute mean?’ one of them asked. She was eight years old, and the biggest of their brood.

How could children going to primary school not have encountered the idea of pollution? What are they being taught is the meaning of taking our very national identity as a twin-island republic from the blue, Caribbean sea? In an era when recycling, environmental conservation and climate change are words appearing weekly in newspapers, as politicians, parents, teachers, religious leaders, community activists, lawyers, doctors, engineers and artists, we are failing to give to children that crucial consciousness they already need.

While those girls were diving and floating, there wasn’t time to explain anything more than that to pollute is to poison. As I watched them then run onto the beach, they tossed away torn up pieces of those Styrofoam cups into the wind. A friend of mine picked up all the pieces and we threw them away in a garbage bin rather than see them get caught up and carried further from the shore.

Yet, stepping over chicken bones, bottle caps, crushed cigarettes, miscellaneous pieces of plastic, bits of paper food containers that once contained shark and bake, and more, on what is a disgusting mix of detritus and Maracas sand, Ziya’s enjoyment of our blessed ocean was shot through with real life lesson about how pervasive garbage is and what kind of failures exist in our national waste management policies. How can we teach children to love a country that we poison simultaneously?

Ziya is four, but because we discuss the environment often, she constantly brings up the fact that everything from her toothpaste to shampoo ends up in the ocean. It makes me ashamed, but I haven’t yet taken action to reduce these aspects of my own footprint. Nonetheless, her transparent observation calls me to account for myself, to acknowledge what harm I too am leaving her generation to inherit, to identify our unsustainable habits as the enemy of our children’s future.

We are the first generation of adults in all of human history to deny oncoming others what was handed down over millennia: clean air, earth and water.

We are poisoning the oceans, and already seeing the effects on marine life. Our seas are being filled with our garbage of all kinds, industrial and domestic, untreated and toxic. Reflecting our selfishness and shortsightedness, such garbage shows up at our feet on every coastline and river that was, less than two decades ago, garbage-free.

These are island children surrounded by ocean. Children who deserve to learn about how irresponsibility created ecological crisis as much as they are told about politeness. Children who must become consciousness of their standpoint in relation to the planet, for protecting it cannot be anything other than their first priority.

Who in the Ministry of Planning understands that the environment is an infinite economy? Who in the Ministry of Education sees schooling as beholden to teaching children the definitive global politics of their generation? Children will pay for our delay. None should still be wondering what pollution means.

Post 184.

Daily I grow more fed up with the People’s Partnership’s door-in-your-face approach to public accountability.  Whether in relation to the complete lack of consultation or transparency regarding the Miami Vice-inspired concretization of Chagaramas, or Jairam Seemungal’s bizarrely negligent statements in relation to SIS land grabbing in Couva. Or Minister Ramnarine’s apparent willingness to oversee disquieting disbursements through NGC’s Corporate Communications Department, finally explaining those vacuous full-page ads about ‘happiness’ conjured up by the government’s most expensive spin doctor. Or public servant revelations of ‘Prisongate’ plagiarism and lawyer-garbed tiefing, which were connected directly to ex-AG Ramlogan’s office, and which the PM dealt with herself, Lady Macbeth-like.

Amidst such untrustworthiness is the shutting down of one of the Green Fund’s most successful projects, Plastikeep, which has made citizens of all classes, business owners, and forty-two schools of children as passionate and committed about recycling as one could ever dream.

Without justification, Plastikeep has been given until the end of the month to pack up its collection bins and to tell all, who now wake up with new feel good routines of environmental care, that their plastic will no longer be collected from next month, despite Plastikeep having a system in place to collect and export it. Now, where will it go? Again, to our landfills, poisonously and purposelessly.

The EMA says it is going to introduce a national recycling plan, but no citizen has ever seen this plan detailed on paper, knows when it will start, has been assured that it will be done through door to door collection as it must, or can be shown an accountable and ready infrastructure in place. Such a plan would also require tax incentives and legislation, currently non-existent.

Maybe the EMA will build on the well thought out plan being championed by local government officials, but there’s highly suspect jostling for Green Fund money, between SWMCOL, and the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, headed by Ganga Singh.

It’s Minister Singh, of desalination plant notoriety, who needs to immediately account for why he hasn’t yet approved a third phase, and even expansion, of a project that the Green Fund’s own Executing Unit and Advisory Committee support, and why his Ministry is hungry to make Green Fund cash available at this moment to administer well, nothing, when refuse collection isn’t even under his Ministry’s portfolio.

The fact that Plastikeep has created community happiness, togetherness and hope without giving Ernie Ross a dollar, and has inspired communities across the East-West corridor’s ‘marginal’ constituencies, may mean little on the road to victory that follows Persad-Bissessar’s index finger.

Every one of our votes counts, however, and a genuine groundswell is more personally and emotionally connected to this programme’s closure, without proper accounting for why, why now and why with nothing else in place, than politicians realise.

Plastikeep gets 1% of the Green Fund’s yearly income of about $300 million, and makes more difference to our lives than the unaccounted millions wrapped up in NGC, and Chagaramas’ questionable development.  This can be an election issue if we decide.

Additionally, every political rally until September should end with properly collected plastic being dropped into available collection bins the next day. Minister Singh, how about non-partisan advocacy to make that both parties’ reality, from next week? Rowley, surely you agree?

Which party does it, if any, would show who really loves the little children inheriting our garbage ridden coastlines and country, and it would show more care for future generations than any platform robber speech. School children are learning a lesson in civics, and are ready to protest to protect Plastikeep.

Entry 174.

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t expect so much had changed overnight, while you were feting, sleeping or hoping for the explosion of far-too-many fireworks to be over.

With Section 34-esque timing and secrecy, a technically sound, politically unfettered cross-ministry team initiated a well-funded, national recycling programme. For what kind of small islands government shrugs at the unregulated garbage filling fields, forests, drains, rivers and coasts, has no mass education programme on waste reduction, and can’t yet stem the rising tide of disposed plastic everything?

No more will garbage be collected by just anyone with an extra truck, Hilux or party contact, and then dumped, well, anywhere. From today, a package of farsighted regulations, services, incentives and information will make us all grow up and stop selfishly leaving our children’s grandchildren to decry our thoughtlessness about what we buy and how much toxicity we put out at our gate.

Indeed, Blue Waters now lets you return all your empty bottles. Massy Stores and other groceries have stopped wrapping every sweet potato, beetroot and cabbage in plastic and Styrofoam, and customers will give you cold cut-eye for not re-using plastic and cloth bags.

This year’s Entrepreneur of the Year won’t be the guy who excelled at taking over-priced all-inclusives on the road, but the citizen whose big idea generated the least garbage or the company whose accounts show financial responsibility for the waste created by their products, rather than relying on us to subsidize their books to public disadvantage.

As you read, Poui trees are being replanted along every possible by-way and highway, for the happiness-seeking souls in the Ministry of Transport remembered how those dry season flowers lifted the spirits of those stuck in traffic, carrying home road rage, or without air-conditioning.

Ordinary civil servants’ concerns about the desperate need for more shade for those walking, timely, safe and sufficient public transportation for those traveling, bicycle options for day and night in cities and towns, and green interventions to urbanization were, late last night, finally understood by Cabinet to be about widespread quality of life, not environmental elitism.

Similar intentions blossomed in the Forestry Division, whose 2015 motto is ‘Forestry Multiplication’ and whose radical target is to prevent hillsides from being illegally quarried or clear-cut and, finally, washed away as a flood of mud.

So inspired were those in the Ministry of Planning that they immediately scrapped as many metres of concrete as they could from the popularly-distrusted ‘development’ plans for Invader’s Bay, instead prioritizing mangroves, indigenous trees, biodiversity, and low impact, low-cost fun for citizens, particularly children from our poorest communities. Their new piece-de-resistance is a Minshall-dreamt Red Square of 144 flamboyant trees, more alive, more revolutionary and more sustainable than any paved-over Russian equivalent, showing an ability to apply our Carnival mastery to making “living works of art”.

For once, this election year, recycling will not just occur within and among political parties while, from education to economic inequality to national budgeting to our health system, candidates fall far short of “powerful, liberatory ideas that raise our pores and imagination”, to quote my bredren columnist Colin Robinson.

I woke up this morning amazed to be suddenly beyond our non-functioning state institutions, corrupt elites, short-term hopes, acceptance of violence, unequal rights, excess in the name of culture, and reluctance to measure our individual worth beyond a box of dead. Overnight, truthful leadership became accountable, and civic organizing appeared collective, fearless and committed to our own power and care.

If this was true, and it can be, this would be a genuinely new day to a new year.