“We are consuming beyond our capacity to manage the waste that we are producing. . . . Barbados is only 166 square miles and if we continue to consume the way we are, there will come a time when we have no physical landscape around Barbados to accommodate it.”
The above dire warning from Minister of Environment Dr Denis Lowe on Tuesday in Parliament pretty much sums up what we all know – this country has a mounting waste management problem that we can no longer bury.
But perish the thought that the recently announced partnership between the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) and private waste haulers to empty garbage bins in four rural parishes is a sustainable solution. We think not!
Garbage is always a messy matter. Everyone produces it, but no one wants it, and left unattended it rots and causes a stench.
But no matter how awful it smells, we all continue to hold our noses and talk, talk, talk, rather than clean up our act.
Our track record of hard decisions to clean up messy situations is abysmal.
Hence, the current debate about whether or not the SSA should be privatized is not surprising.
As he tabled a resolution on the Green Economy Scoping Study, Minister Lowe was at pains to point out that Government had no intention of selling off the state-owned agency.
“We [Government] believe that garbage collection in Barbados is best kept in the hands of the state, because the state sees it not as a commercial endeavour; the state sees it as an essential social service,” he told the House on Tuesday.
However, fact remains that delivery of this “essential service” has been shoddy. We have been spending large sums to support temporary fixes while our waste management problem continues to mushroom.
We have nothing to profit from privatization of the SSA but it has become pellucidly clear to us that the current system is not working.
Dr Lowe and his technocrats must pay urgent attention to a sustainable waste management plan that will help to identify where we are now, where we want to be in the future and how we are going to get there.
The controversies surrounding the Greenland and Mangrove Pond landfills are well documented.
Moreover, we have enough examples from developed countries to show that landfills are outdated solutions that release toxic gases and cause further environmental degradation.
Interestingly, Dr Lowe signalled on Tuesday that Barbados cannot fully develop without the inclusion of waste to energy technology because we do not have the space for landfills.
However, we would wish to urge caution on the waste to energy proposal, against the backdrop of our recent Cahill Energy debacle.
International experts have touted waste to energy as the preferred alternative, since it can be used to reduce the volume of solid waste produced and the waste can be reused as energy.
On the downside, waste to energy facilities are expensive and the verdict is still out on whether emissions from such plants are clean and free of harmful chemicals.
Even with that said, of prime importance is the need for Government to be upfront and transparent about whether it will indeed pursue the introduction of such a facility here.
There need not be any more of the unnecessary rancour which marked the Cahill episode.
Until such time, perhaps we all may want to do as Dr Lowe suggests and take more responsibility for our garbage. For starters, each household may want to put into practise the three Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle.
Reducing waste starts by reducing the creation of garbage. Better shopping and food preparation can reduce kitchen waste. We also advocate for less packaging on the things we buy and, better yet, buy less.
It is that kind of individual responsibility that can help to reduce the problem and ease the strain on our fragile environment. And if that works, who knows? We may not have to consider waste to energy at all.