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Solving Riverton's woes - ‘Green’ lobbyists say recycling the key

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Environment editor williamsp@jamaicaobserver.com
Wednesday, February 29, 2012


RECYCLING, coupled with other measures such as a comprehensive waste-to-energy project, and composting — not relocation — are said to be key to alleviating woes over the Riverton City dump, where countless fires over the years have cost the country millions of dollars to put out.

Such is the argument of two members of Jamaica's environmental lobby, who insist that for too long the island has sidestepped recycling in favour of throwing away ever-increasing quantities of garbage, notably plastics, metal and, in more recent times, electronic waste, such as computers and cellphones.

"The first thing we should do is reduce the amount of garbage that goes there [to Riverton] by having recycling. There should be no plastics going there and no paper going there and, of course, no metal," Peter Espeut, former director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, told Environment Watch. "Ultimately, if we go seriously into reprocessing, recycling, then there will be hardly anything going to Riverton."

Critical to making a success of it, he said, is sorting at the household level, which he maintained should be a simple matter of utilising coloured garbage bags — each for a certain type of garbage, for example, green for paper and blue for plastic. Once sorted, garbage trucks will simply collect and dispose at designated sites for appropriate disposal.

It is here that the private sector has an important role, Espeut said.

"We need the private sector to invest in the money-making business of producing recycled paper. So the waste paper would go to recycle paper," he said. "I am told we don't produce enough plastic to recycle our own plastic, but what we can do is put it in a grinder and bale it and export it to a country that will add other plastics to it and remake more plastics."

Currently, there are at least two local entities that accept paper and plastics — Protect the Environment Trust (PET) and One Jamaica Recycling. PET is a non-governmental organisation that specialises in the collection and export of plastics from Kingston and St Andrew, Portmore, Castleton Gardens, and Portland, as well as from hotels in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. One Jamaica Recycling is a private sector entity that collects both plastic and paper, in addition to cardboard and aluminium waste for recycling abroad.

Wendy Lee, executive director for Northern Jamaica Conservation Association (NJCA), shared Espeut's views.

"Riverton and all the other dumps around the country are a symptom of our failure to manage waste in general [and] principally to reduce, separate, recycle. We are an island, we just can't keep throwing everything on to a dump," she told Environment Watch. "So basically, if people were more aware, if there was a framework where people knew where to dispose of various things, that would be a starting point. At least people who want to do the right thing would have the right option."

Lee said a deposit-refund system would complement well any recycling effort, particularly for plastics. Such a system combines a charge for a product, such as bottled water, with a subsidy for proper recycling or disposal that constitutes the refund.

"We used to have that for glass, for Red Stripe bottles and Pepsi bottles and so on; we never saw any of those bottles on the ground because the persons who get their deposit for the bottles would collect their bottles," she said. "If there was, for example, a deposit and refund on pet bottles, every little boy would pick [them] up. So all of a sudden, tens of thousands of bottles that the NSWMA trucks have to pick up now would no longer be there."

As to the suggestion — advanced by Local Government and Community Development Minister Noel Arscott earlier this month — to relocate the dump, Espeut and Lee's collective response has been to ask "to where?"

"If we convert it [Riverton] into a landfill, it will never catch fire. Anywhere you put it, if you allow, you will hear NIMBY [not in my back yard)," noted Espeut. "Nobody wants a dump next to them, but a landfill is not a problem."

Of course, he made allowances for the disposal sites reaching capacity, but said its lifespan can, at least for the time being, be extended through recycling and other measures, such as composting and the implementation of a comprehensive waste-to-energy plan.

"In my humble view, if we do proper recycling and processing of some of the waste, then the need for a landfill would be reduced wherever it is and if you do covering rather than what we do now, then it means that much less business will take place where the landfill is," Espeut said.

Lee, too, emphasised working to extend the 'shelf-life' of the dump, noting that even if the disposal site were to be relocated, garbage trucks are unable to collect refuse from every household in every nook and cranny of the island.

"Jamaica needs local solutions to their waste problems. At the community level, there needs to be these depots where people can bring their stuff. You would need some sort of dump, but at the community level, there would be places where people could bring their waste and then those items would be transferred to wherever they were going to go," she said.

"If we could separate the biodegradable from the non-biodegradable, it would reduce the amount of waste going to the dump. Then, out of the non-biodegradable, [we could determine] how much of that has some sort of recyclable value," Lee added.

Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), has said, however, that priority must be given to finding a new site for the Riverton City dump.

"The situation there is so awful that I think it is going to be very difficult to correct on site. Riverton is not lined so there can be contamination of ground water. Remember, too, that it is located near to the Duhaney River and that is not ideal either. The IDB (Inter-America Development Bank) project envisaged the expansion of Riverton; I don't tell you that is not feasible, but it is going to take some very hard decisions and some very strong action," she told Environment Watch.

McCaulay revealed earlier this month that the IDB had, in 2007, cancelled the bulk of an $11-million loan to the island after discovering waste, mismanagement and incompetence in the implementation of a programme to improve conditions at Riverton City and other 'landfills' across the island.

"The broad objectives were to upgrade Riverton and establish a proper legal and institutional regulatory system for solid waste," she said in an Observer article published on February 15, while the authorities did battle with the most recent fire, which is estimated to have cost the country just under $60 million.

"There was also to be the preparation of an islandwide programme for waste minimisation, collection and disposal. The loan was for US$11.5 million, with the total cost of the project being US$16.5 million. The project was to be carried out over a four-year period. This was extended for three more years and the project was finally closed in January 2007. Only US$3.82 million had been disbursed and the bank cancelled US$7.68 million," McCaulay added.

She continues to question why that project failed.

"Why wasn't the work done under the IDB project? If we can answer those questions, then perhaps we can look at their plan, but nobody wants to look at those things. The new plan is going to go the way of the old plan unless you understand what went wrong. All of that has got to stop," she noted, insisting that in the situation relocation may be the best option, certainly over the long term.

In the interim, she, like Espeut and Lee, said alternative systems have to be put in place to arrest the situation at the 100-acre Riverton disposal site on which dozens of people converge daily to eke out a living.

"While Riverton is still open, we need to decide what material can be handled elsewhere. It might be possible to handle the plastic, the glass, the tyres elsewhere. It might be possible to do composting. And at some of these other sites, people should be wearing protective gear," she said.

Beyond that, the JET boss said it is critical that Jamaicans move to cut consumption.

"We can't consume and generate all this waste [without] a plan to deal with it and then say when it burns, we just have to be sick," McCaulay insisted.

Minister of Local Government and Community Development Noel Arscott, for his part, has outlined a raft of measures to treat with Riverton — many of them mirroring the proposals by the environmental advocates.

In a February 14 statement to Parliament, he said his ministry was moving to not only cover all exposed areas with marl and, or suitable cover material, segment tipping areas into smaller usable sections and rotate tipping sections, but also to cover areas after use and secure stock-pile of cover material in the event of another fire.

He said he would also procure proper personal protective equipment such as respirators, rebuild emergency tipping areas, as well as clean drains and rehabilitate roadways. Those were topped off by promises to "locate alternate site or relocate residents" from the area to expand the current location while exploring investment options/proposals for waste to energy.

In an interview with Environment Watch on Sunday, Arscott said even as they move to implement measures to arrest the problems at Riverton, relocation has to be looked at.

"We have a problem because the landfill has a lifespan and it is coming to its useful [end] unless we can get one of those companies in waste to energy that can mine it and use it. Otherwise, we would still have to develop a real sanitary landfill," he said.

"Now where you going to put it, that is another thing because nobody wants a landfill near them. But we have to contemplate from now relocating it. We have Riverton City on one side, and the Duhaney River on the other side and any number of things can block that river and if that river is blocked, then we will have problems with the Mandela, near the ferry. So these are issues, environmental issues and others, that [come into play]."

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