Greening waste disposal

It was announced this week that contracts have been signed for landfill designs and related resources for Bartica, Linden and Mahdia. The Ministry of Communities will spend $125 million, the Department of Public Information reported, which will also see “waste profile studies of the three towns and recommendations for resource recovery and recycling programmes.”

If these projects go according to plan, in eight months, these three towns will be ready to move to the next stage of having sanitary, managed landfills that pose little or no risk to the environment. For these to work the way they should would require, along with what is already proposed, massive education and sensitisation at the community level, including in schools.

The approach to recycling cannot be a project or a programme but must become a way of life. Plastics and other non-biodegradable materials have no place in a sanitary landfill. All materials dumped there must be able to be completely broken down, biologically, chemically and physically over the life of the landfill, which incidentally, should be safely isolated from residential areas.

The restriction that has been placed on Styrofoam products entering the country and being used here is a mere first step to the ‘green’ Guyana that has been talked about for years. Under the Jagdeo administration, the Low Carbon Development Strategy had been developed in line with the climate agreement signed with Norway. However, its major focus was the establishing of the Amaila Falls hydropower project, which was to have produced clean energy and lowered electricity costs.

This project began in 2011 and was set for completion in 2017. However, it suffered significant hiccups from the get go and never really got off the ground. The current government, when it came into power in 2015, took a decision to abandon the project on which a significant sum of money had already been expended with not much to show.

Unfortunately for Guyana, the LCDS did not seem to have been fleshed out beyond Amaila Falls, though to the initiated, low carbon encompasses more than just renewable energy. It extends to halting deforestation and pollution, which in turn protect biodiversity and water resources. Nor is the only source of low-carbon energy hydropower; solar, wind and biofuels also produce the same result.

The Granger administration, in fact President David Granger himself, has flipped the discourse from LCDS referring now to developing a green economy. It is the same concept, though to speak of greening, as environmentalists do, encompasses much more. As it is, the green concept is currently at odds with the direction in which the country is headed at present. It is the talk of the town that ExxonMobil is getting ready to drill for oil or fossil fuel, which is diametrically opposed to the green concept. The President has publicly stated that the exploitation of oil would not prevent the move to greening Guyana. But how that will work remains to be seen.

In the meantime, not much has been done to promote the green concept beyond what has been stated above. Bolder steps, such as the restriction of plastic bags for instance, are yet to be taken. The country’s largest landfill, which is at Haags Bosch on the East Bank Demerara, does not meet sanitary landfill standards. For one thing, it is too close to habitations, but that is far from the major issue with it. What is desperately wrong is that the tonnes of garbage taken to Haags Bosch on a daily basis are mixed refuse, which includes plastics, rubber and even industrialised waste. Heat and other decaying matter serve to make the mix combustible and there have been fires which allow for acrid smoke and gases to pollute the nearby communities.

Haags Bosch also employs groups of waste pickers, who sort through the mountains of garbage, one assumes for recyclable materials. While some are successfully removed, like glass bottles for instance, which can be turned in at certain factories for payment, the plastics have no place to go. There is no plastic recycling plant in the country at the moment. And though it has been reported that the new cement factory at Berbice uses plastics in its manufacturing process, to date none of it is from Haags Bosch. Meanwhile, there have also been allegations that expired or non-standard imports which have been dumped at Haags Bosch find their way back to the market, where they are sold at low prices to unsuspecting thrift shoppers.

It is clear that there needs to be a replacement for Haags Bosch, which has also had design and management problems. To date, there is no mention of anything in the pipeline to that effect. Meantime, one hopes that none of the proposed new landfills at Lethem, Linden and Bartica are allowed to take the Haags Bosch route. Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan had said at the announcement of the contracts this week: “We are also committed to ensuring that there is more equality in relation to what is obtained here in the coastland and the hinterland communities, therefore as it pertains to issues involving solid waste management we will ensure that superior practice standards are present in communities away from the coastland.”

Say it isn’t so, Minister Bulkan, because the coastland model stinks, literally.

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