Urban development cannot proceed without proper waste management and Guyana is a prime example of this. Georgetown, in its current state, is the poster city for urban non-development as a result of improper waste management.
We can have all the fancy malls, high rises and new eating houses that those in authority proudly hold up as development; the fact is that once they are surrounded by garbage that’s what they will reflect.
Research reveals that over the past twenty years, cities around the world – but more particularly those in developed countries – have been aggressively pursuing various forms of recycling. Waste like paper and plastics, scrap metals and food, can and are being repurposed and processed. Landfills, those mammoth human waste eyesores, nose sores, carriers of pollution, and sites of methane emissions are being reduced.
In fact, as far back as 2007, the European Union (EU) had introduced landfill reduction targets and imposed fines on those members that failed to meet them. It just so happens that 2007 was when the construction of the still incomplete Haags Bosch landfill at Eccles began, to replace the now-closed festering, unwieldy site at Le Repentir in the city.
International experts on the subject have been saying for more than two decades that simply filling land with all kinds of waste is unwise and actually dangerous. It pollutes the land and water supply and it affects those living close by, but the biggest imponderable is the emission of methane, which is one of the greenhouse gases. None of this information is secret, which begs the question why, when there was a move towards the reduction of landfills, this country embarked on building one that has been fraught with all sorts of issues from day one. The answer is probably that it was, at the time, the cheapest way out. If there isn’t a saying or a proverb somewhere out there that the cheapest is often not the best, then there should be. It’s something we are all quite aware of.
One of the plans during the construction of Haags Bosch was that the methane produced would be harvested for commercial use. That has so far proven to be no more than pie in the sky. Issues with the road to the landfill and the completion of its cells are still being ironed out. Of much greater concern too is the fact that more waste is being generated than the landfill can take off. The site managers had reported that the daily tonnage of garbage meant that the cell’s life would be shorter than projected. And if all of the garbage being dumped about the city on a daily basis were added, then certain catastrophe would be the result. It must be obvious, surely, that building new landfills is not the answer.
The recycling of household waste is one of most impactful things individual citizens can do to help improve the environment. In Guyana, we have reached a stage where this is a must. Aluminium cans, paper and plastic must be recycled and citizens should be actively encouraged to compost fruit and vegetable skins. The need to trot out the public education programmes and to back them up with charges and fines for defaulters has become even direr.
A point to note here is that the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST) has been doing a lot of repurposing of waste, including producing biodiesel and a rubberized asphalt cement from old tyres, that can be undertaken on an even larger scale. Proof that the know-how exists, and not just at the level of the IAST, also comes to the fore every year when school children research and build small-scale but viable projects for the Ministry of Education’s Science and Technology fair. Yet, these laudable pursuits remain mere evidence of their academic prowess.
We are aware that given the vagaries of climate change and its impact on our below-sea-level coast that going green cannot be a catch-phrase for us. It is in fact the only way to go. We would get there faster if there were more proactivity on the part of the powers that be.