TRINIDAD and Tobago might not be at the World Cup, but we are nonetheless a world leader when it comes to an unenviable statistic: waste. According to the Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL), this country produces a whopping 700,000 tons of trash per year. That translates into 1.4 kilograms per citizen per day, higher than the World Bank’s March estimate of the global daily average of 1.2 kilograms per person. We need to clean up this mess.
The current situation has complex origins. It has certainly not happened overnight. SWMCOL chief executive officer Ronald Roach notes the role of high levels of imports over the years as well as finite land area.
“The reality is we are simply running out of space,” Roach told a meeting of the San Fernando City Corporation on Wednesday.
Yet, the deeper problem relates to something even more intractable: our habits, our culture. According to Roach, 80 per cent of TT’s waste is recyclable. That means most of the stuff choking the overburdened Beetham, Guanapo and Claxton Bay dumps don’t have to be there. Not only are we wasting valuable land space to make provision for toxic dumps, we are also wasting a potential source of employment and wealth through indiscriminate waste disposal practices.
According to some recycling advocates, recycling and reuse create at least nine times more jobs than landfills and incinerators. This is borne out in countries like the US. According to the US Recycling Economic Information Study, the US recycling industry employed 1.25 million people whereas the US solid waste management industry employed only 0.25 million.
Recycling can significantly deepen local manufacturing. Recycled materials can be used to generate products with relatively lower levels of capital, significantly deepening our productivity. We should turn our waste into a valuable asset.
For such a sustainable path to happen, however, there needs to be a complete overhaul of the way we do things. And it must start from the ground up. Social practices and behaviour need to change. We need to foster consciousness over our footprint, as individuals and as a nation. Only then will the State be able to implement a scheme of refuse sorting and collection that mirrors what is now standard in the developed world.
Part of this involves becoming far more serious about our international legal commitments in this regard. Are we really living up to our promises to implement the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol as they relate to ozone depletion? Are we effectively monitoring emissions from our dumps and other sites?
Good waste management is a key health service that allows sustainable development. As a society, we could benefit a lot by heeding the adage: waste not, want not.