MANAGING SOLID WASTE FROM AN ISLAND PERSPECTIVE

by
Gillian Cambers
Small Islands Voice Global Coordinator
University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program
P.O. Box 9011, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico 00681
T: 1 787 832 4040 ext 5301, F: 1 787 265 2880, E gilliancambers@aol.com

Abstract

Islands are adopting different approaches to solid waste management depending on their size, available resources, and the extent and perception of the problem. The approaches may range from fencing a small dumpsite to an island-wide waste separation programme. Small Islands Voice is all about people in small islands voicing their views and getting involved in environment and development issues, such as solid waste management. One of the most important aspects of this initiative is connecting islands in the different regions: Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific. A Small Islands Voice global internet discussion forum that reaches more than 20,000 members of the general public in small islands recently focused on solid waste management after receiving a plea for help from the San Andres Archipelago in the Caribbean, who described themselves as 'swimming in excessive garbage'. Responses poured in from solid waste managers, members of the general public, and school students in islands around the world; these ideas and positive initiatives were aired on the forum. This paper describes some of these initiatives. Small islands around the world are realising that while they face a multitude of problems, solid waste is one problem that they can manage effectively themselves, with a little help and encouragement from neighbouring islands.

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Solid waste management is a very serious problem for most islands and interestingly enough it is an issue that almost everyone living in a small island can relate to. Perhaps it is a function of being small and having the waste in front of our eyes every day or maybe it is the fact that this an issue we can really do something about. But this is not to say that solving solid waste problems is easy, far from it, for it involves changing people's attitudes, always a difficult task.

Within the framework of an inter-regional project, Small Islands Voice, which started in 2002 and is supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, solid waste management is among the many environment-development issues being addressed.

Small Islands Voice (SIV) is all about (1) providing mechanisms for people living in small islands to discuss their views on environment and development; (2) encouraging people to get involved in sustainable development issues so that (3) they can contribute to the implementation of the Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States. The first task for Small Islands Voice was to find out the issues that concent island residents, and then to begin addressing some of those issues at a local level, all the time exchanging the experiences with other islands. Among the environmental issues identified, solid waste disposal was one that was common to most islands.

The internet has been used to explore this subject further. SIV Global is an internet forum (www.sivglobal.org) where topics are aired and the responses are compiled and sent out as email messages once every two weeks to more than 20,000 addresses of people living in small islands. Each topic is usually run for about two months, after which all the responses are compiled on the website and a brief summary is prepared. One writer from the San Andres Archipelago in the Caribbean wrote to this forum :

'For some time now, I have been reading this forum with much interest and many of the things that bother us here in the San Andres Archipelago are similar to what is happening on small islands around the globe. I would like to hear from other islands, how they manage excessive garbage. We are now swimming in excessive garbage, with the threat of health epidemics that will be harmful to our children, youth and old people, and without any appropriate management in sight. For this reason my questions: is the disposal of garbage a problem in other islands? How is garbage managed in other islands? Isn't there some way in which islands can work together and cooperate in solving the threatening garbage problems? ' Dulph Mitchell, SIV Global, 8 June 2004 (http://www.sivglobal.org/?read=61)

This request brought in a large number of responses from islands around the world describing a variety of actions, Here are just a sampling of the responses :

'Here on the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, are also dealing with our waste as a resource in as far as we can. We combine our waste food and paper and cardboard to make compost saving a fortune on shipping and landfill charges. We have just purchased a glass crusher and will use the resulting 'cullet' in the making of concrete. We have several separate collections and the system works well. Food is collected on Mondays, cans and glass on Tuesdays from businesses (householders bring their cans bottles and jars to 'bring bank sites'), Thursdays we collect recyclables - paper, plastics, cartons (sorted into separate bags), and Fridays we have a landfill collection. On the first Wednesday of each month, large items are collected - beds fridges etc. The system is costly but works well.' Olwen Gill, Aran Islands

'The problem of garbage control in the Pacific and Small Island States must be resolved at the level of politicians. Workshops to train locals to recycle, reuse, perhaps bury garbage may not work if an island is in the middle of nowhere and the cost of transporting items for recycling have proven to be very costly. A bill has been submitted to our local legislature to force this issue on importers of goods such as sodas, water and other beverage to pay a certain fee for every purchase and get a refund if the container is returned to the importer for shipping out of the territory. This is what I meant by the resolving this issue at the level of politicians. The South Pacific Community is comprised of heads of government from all Pacific Island Countries and Territories. This should be an item in the agenda of the next meeting.' From Roy Ausage, American Samoa

'First, our wastes must be seen in terms of resources, not problems. 'Garbage' or 'Rubbish' is a problem, whereas waste materials are things that can be used. Here in Kiribati, a beverage Container Deposit system is under development, where specified bottles and aluminium drink cans have a 5 cent deposit paid on them at import, which is passed down through the commercial system to the consumer - at a fixed level of 5 cents. The consumer then returns the empty beverage container to a collection point, which buys it back at 4 cents per item, with one cent going to help finance the operation. In this way, these easily recyclable elements are removed from the waste stream by use of a simple economic tool.

Cardboard is principally recovered from business (everything is imported in a cardboard box) and the advantage to the business is that they get free removal of a bulky part of their waste stream. This same system can be used to recover cars and fridges for example, using a larger deposit. The required legislation for the Container Deposit system has gone through its first reading in Parliament.

Non-recyclable wastes are collected using biodegradable Green Bags. These are a specified garbage bag. Also, if a system is used that includes in the price of the Green Bag the cost of collection, then those who make more rubbish pay more. With this system, the garbage collectors will only pick up Green Bags.

To do all this effectively a public education and awareness program is run alongside the physical waste recycling and collection systems. Slogans have been developed that have gained very wide currency: 'Kiribati Te Boboto' (roughly: 'Make Kiribati Beautiful') which is printed on all the Green Bags, and also the side of the rubbish trucks; and the recycling system is called 'Kaoki Mange!' ('Return the Rubbish!') as all the recyclables are exported.' Alice Leney, Kiribati

These and many more ideas and suggestions are available on the Small islands Voice website at http://www.unesco.org/csi/smis/siv/Forum/Comp9garbage.htm.

The discussion concluded with an article from the Bahamas, which shows the power of youth and persistence.

'We live on a 5-mile long, 1 mile wide island of Hope Town. We have about 400 full time Bahamian residents on our island. We survive on the North American tourists that visit our quaint island. The sheer number of tourists adds an unbelievable amount of garbage to our small dump that used to be burned once a week. It became necessary to burn two times per week, then three and lately the fires never seemed to go out. As the dump got bigger - so did the fire.

After Hurricane Floyd nearly destroyed our island in 1999, our dump became the drop spot for anything and everything - burnable or not! On one area of the island they bulldozed all the lumber from destroyed houses and a young man who was a marina owner took the responsibility to burn it to clear the area. Soon after, he became very ill and after 2 years in and out of hospitals, he died of arsenic poisoning due to inhaling smoke from burning the pressure treated, chemical-soaked wood. Other people began to become more aware of the high incidence of respiratory problems on our island. It seemed the dump never stopped burning and we were all breathing toxic fumes. Foreign ownership and building on our island increased unbelievably after the hurricane because our Prime Minister dropped the import duty on building supplies for a year, to allow people to repair and build back. The foreigners took advantage of a situation that only a few Bahamians could! The garbage piled up even further - often fires at the dump would jump into the bush and we began to have terrible bush fires. The brave men who had the contract to handle the dump, wore full hazard gear when they worked there to avoid the toxins. Our island paradise was becoming a toxic wasteland!

Nearly a year ago, our town began having meetings to persuade our government to transport our garbage off our island to the larger island of Abaco (5 miles across the water) where there is a large dump. We were told that the mainland had filled their dump, too! We increased the pressure on the government leaders by having more meetings and having them up to see the dumpsite - they were horrified. Our teacher took us to all the meetings with officials and we were always recognized as we took notes on what was said. It may have been the pictures in the paper of our firemen, in full hazard gear, fighting a dump fire that got out of control that finally got the government's attention. Or it might have been the letters to the government from the people who owned the property the dump was on, saying that effective immediately, no more dumping could take place on their land. Whatever it was, we are happy because in the next 3 months they had employed a company to come in to clear away the garbage and prepared a plan to barge a truck with 2 very large containers to our island 3 times a week. The truck drives off and delivers empty containers and picks up the full ones to transport the garbage off our island to Abaco - which will soon have a much bigger dump itself.

Our story has a happy ending - as of 3 weeks ago there will never be any more burning of garbage on our island! Our beautiful serene island can once again have clean air surrounding it. We wish all of the islands who have similar problems the best of luck in getting your officials to accept other methods of getting rid of your garbage other than stockpiling it on your island, or dumping it in the sea, or burning and spreading toxic fumes.

Remember, we students can become involved - after all we will inherit what is left of these islands and personally, we want them to remain clean, green and serene'. Students from Hope Town School, Bahamas

The forum discussions indicate that there are a wealth of solid waste management initiatives in small islands around the world. Yet as a writer from Palau pointed out 'There are a lot of programs here in Palau that should be helping us solve the problem of trash, like Earth Day, signs by certain groups, and entities all around Palau, but I don't see the change.' This remark emphasizes the following:

  • Changing attitudes is difficult - it will take persistence, probably over generations
  • There is a need for overall, island-wide waste management programmes
  • Judging by the response to SIV Global Forum people are keen to do something about solid waste issues and they feel that this is one issue they can effectively manage.

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See the corresponding powerpoint presentation