A drive or a walk through Brittons Hill, St Michael and surrounding communities since last weekend has yielded a sight for sore eyes.
No more derelict vehicles, strewn garbage bags, styrofoam containers, plastic bottles, discarded wood or galvanize, rotten beds, broken televisions, fridges and overgrown bush. For now, Brittons Hill fairly sparkles with cleanliness.
Saturday’s National Clean-Up and Beautification Campaign spearheaded by the Ministry of the Environment, and themed “Many Hands”, began a long-needed initiative to clean up this and dozens of other districts anxiously awaiting their facelift.
And indeed, it was encouraging to many hands, regardless of age, gender and status, coming together for the common cause of cleaning.
But while we fully applaud the Government for this effort, along with the residents who volunteered to rid the affected areas of an unsightly mess, we cannot afford to lose the lesson.
The derelict vehicles did not park themselves. The soft drink bottles, Styrofoam containers and endless plastic bags did not miraculously appear. The fridges and the stoves did not walk out of homes.
It was all there because of litterbugs – even that term sounds dangerously innocuous – who dwell among us and feel it is someone else’s duty to clean up after their filthy habit of dumping refuse anywhere and everywhere.
How sad that we have become so callously abusive of our environment.
Let us be clear; it is pointless to blame the good people of Brittons Hill. The whole nation stands indicted for a scenario repeated countless times in countless areas.
Our gullies, vital players in our underground water supply system, are choking in garbage. Indeed, we have a broken sewage system partially because of our unhealthy practices.
Sadly, the dumping of trash by roadsides, in gullies and fields and on our beaches continues unabated. Not even the law serves as an effective deterrent to delinquents. The repeated calls on citizens to reduce, reuse and recycle, or make compost of food scraps, have sadly gone mostly unheeded.
There is a clear message lurking beneath the filth and debris in our communities: some harmful, even deadly diseases abide, from mosquito-borne dengue, chikungunya, and zika to rodent-spread leptospirosis.
One would think that in these hot days, the lesson would be learned that unattended garbage attracts flies, rodents and other vectors.
Hidden from the view of most Barbadians is the great harm that land-based pollution is causing on our offshore marine environment. How much of our marine life is choking plastic or smothered in debris and chemical runoff is unknown except to fisherfolk, marine biologists and a few students.
But the knock-on effect of land-based marine pollution is what will become apparent to all – in losses to tourism, fisheries and beachfront real estate.
Since entire communities are at risk of exposure to hazardous waste and the effects of pollutants from improperly disposed garbage, Barbadians ought to participate in this nationwide campaign not just on the scheduled dates, but as part of their daily routine.
If we do not practice proper waste disposal, the efforts of Government and other well-meaning groups to clean these fields and hills will never be enough.
If these clean environs are to last and Saturday’s clean-up at Brittons Hill was not futile, Barbadians must make it a daily habit to help keep their island clean and tidy. Every citizen should go the extra mile to care for our fragile environment.
Your waste is your waste and you have control over what and how much you generate.
The bottom line is this: solid waste management should not just be a concern of the Government. This is everyone’s responsibility. Simple principles of composting, recycling and reusing can all be done in the home. These are real waste prevention and reduction solutions that families can introduce to cut the volume and toxicity of what our society throws away.
But the best way to resolve the waste problem is not to create it in the first place. Better shopping and food-preparation habits can greatly reduce kitchen waste. We can advocate for less packaging on the things we buy. We can use our appliances and entertainment gadgets just a little longer or, if we can’t, dispose of them in the manner prescribed by law.
Let’s all take pride in our environment. And just maybe if we do, there won’t be need for a mass clean-up.
Many hands make light work.