Over the weekend more than 60 neighbours and their supporters staged a demonstration outside the B’s Recycling plant at Cane Garden, St. Thomas. They were protesting what their consider to be the unacceptable conditions under which they have had to live since a fire that started on March 25 and burnt well into March 26 engulfed much of the “garbage” stored on the 14-acre compound.
With the exception of the few children in the group, the protesting party comprised primarily mature Barbadian men and women who would not normally, or easily, be involved in such activities. Certainly now on a Saturday morning in Barbados.
We support wholeheartedly the concept of recycling and applaud the impact which B’s and similar operations have had on our environment. Plastic bottles no longer litter our streets and gutters; after fetes, as if by magic, thousands of plastic bottles and tin cans disappear; and an army of enterprising Barbadians have been scouring every foot of vacant land, including gullies, carting off any discarded item with even a hint of metal in it, from the old stove to the abandoned car.
They have made a huge difference — and B’s has contributed in no small measure to this.
But, as the older and wiser among us have been saying for centuries, the road to hell can often paved with good intentions. It is clear that had B’s remained the little bottle collection operation it started out as, much of the pre- and post-fire criticism it received would never have occurred.
B’s grew as the demand for their services increase, and obviously as the overseas market for the items they were collecting expanded — and, we conclude, the profits they were generating or stood to generate in the future.
It would be wrong to critcise the principals of B’s for capitalising on what the market offers; but it would be equally wrong not to recognise that there were clear weaknesses in their operation.
From the beginning, the operators would have either to be blind or totally uncaring not to expect that neighbours who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of sweat in their homes would not be unhappy with the mountains of old vehicles and other scrap metal items that were being accumulated just metres away.
In Barbados, given our landmass it is hardly likely that any such operation would not impact neighbours, but should such undertaking be allowed to take place just a few car lengths away from people’s homes, particularly when the homes in some instances were there upward of a decade before the industrial operation — by the last “resident” to arrive in the district.
Again, given the space between the original B’s operation and the bulk of the neighbouring homes, had the recycling operation remain confined to this area, the complaints of residents would hardly have reached the current crescendo.
As far as we are concerned, the statutory regime for the governance of such operations is clearly lacking or it was not enforced; so that when fire tore through the expanse of scrap metal and whatever else was contained within, residents were more than justified in complaining it was just too close for comfort.
It also must be noted that while recycling is relatively new to Barbados, it is not new to the world, and the operators of B’s ought to have recognise that by its very nature, it is one that causes friction with neighbours. An operator at the top of his game would have been proactive, public relations wise, to ensure only the highest quality, positive interaction with neighbours.
Clearly again, that was not the case at Cane Garden, and today it is hardly likely that there is anything B’s can do to regain the trust of neighbours. Their best option would be to pack up and move as soon as possible, recognising though that wherever they go they are likely to be under a level of scrutiny that in the past would have been foreign to them.
But we cannot end this comment though without referring to the current state of the burnt facility. During the protest on Saturday, one’s sense of smell would have had to be totally lost not to recognise that almost a month after the fire the discomfort of the residents is real.
When resident George Hurley walks around outside and inside his home wearing a respirator he is not putting on a show for the cameras. The odour in the air is real, and the occasional light stream of white stuff, possibly smoke or dust, created by activity on the site, is not hard to notice.
But just as we can’t blame B’s for the actual lighting of the fire, we can’t blame them for the “white stuff” escaping into the atmosphere every now and then. What we can say, however, is that it is unfair for the residents not to have constant contact from the relevant public officers in Environment and Health.
The uncomfortable odour is one thing, not knowing what impact the air you are breathing is having on your health is another. The public agencies have failed the people living around the B’s Recycling plant repeatedly, and continue to so do.
What a shame! Can we understand now why the owners of Sandy Lane have refused to built even one of those multi-million dollar homes on the new golf course down-wind of the Mangrove Pond. Those who would eventually occupy them would not, like the people at Cane Garden, have to depend on an MP and a public spirited attorney to fight their case. The best lawyers in and outside of Barbados would bring to us a level of public exposure we would never welcome.
But in socio-economic terms Cane Garden is as far away from Sandy Lane as the North Pole is from the South.