“Two million tonnes a day, that’s what Barbados throws away.”
The lyrics of the jingle advertising the Sustainable Barbados Recycling Centre (SBRC) for the last two years contain a not-so-fun fact.
But for the past year, what Barbadians have thrown away has remained outside their homes, often scattered by stray dogs, cats and other animals, as a chronic shortage of trucks at the Sanitation Service Authority has resulted in garbage collection in some neighbourhoods moving from twice a week to once every three weeks.
Thankfully, despite a few challenges, the first two of seven new Japanese-made garbage trucks promised since last August arrived in Barbados overnight. Environment Minister Trevor Prescod outlined the shipment was delayed by a tariff issue between the US where the vehicles were retrofitted and source nation Japan.
Prescod added that the SSA was doing its best with its limited resources, including working longer hours: “You see them at night late; 10 o’clock, eleven o’clock. When we had a limited number of trucks in the Sanitation [Service Authority], the workers then did additional shifts in the night to meet the national demand. We then made some adjustments to the management and the manner in which we distributed and sent the trucks to different locations not just within an eight-hour service, but we also went beyond the eight-hour service. We’re also trying to come up with some other innovative means of addressing the challenges.”
The shortage of vehicles was attributed to a lack of proper maintenance. Indeed, all Government departments with large vehicle fleets must pay greater attention to this as they seek to upgrade their rolling stock. Back in the 1960s, London Transport took its double-decker buses off the road every three to four years and for about four weeks refurbished them from the ground up; maybe that’s many of the iconic red Routemaster buses remained in service for over 40 years. The daily routine of many a bus driver in a metropolitan city was to park it at the end of his shift as the bus underwent basic maintenance checks.
So as the SSA prepares to welcome this new fleet we, too, wonder what if any plans are in place to train SSA mechanics, the importers and the independent garages specializing in trucks that may have to look after them someday? Have the trucks come in with a significant cache of spare parts, not just the “normal wear and tear” items but more substantial components like engines, gearboxes and axles? And can these be easily sourced if unavailable at any time? Are there any replacement plans for when these trucks outlive their usefulness?
Indeed, the new vehicles will bring relief, but there is more to it than that. Government introduced a Garbage and Sewerage Contribution (GSC) levy on water bills, aimed at correcting the issues with the sewage treatment plants and improving garbage collection. Barbadians, both private homeowners and corporate customers, have complained about the tax, applied at $1.50 per day to homes and 50 per cent of the overall water bill for businesses, saying that it has given them an additional burden on their already high bills. Homeowners in water-scarce areas have lamented they are receiving bills with this additional fee, which translates to an extra $45 a month, but they get little to no water. How much has this tax brought in anyway? Are the funds going towards their intended purpose?
Now, despite Government’s good intentions with these measures, “one hand can’t clap”.We cannot rely on the Government to do everything; our community as a whole has the responsibility to keep the country clean. It is always ironic to see signs proclaiming “You can be fined up to $5,000 for dumping here” surrounded by piles of garbage. All too often we see garbage dumped next to skips provided for that purpose as well, as Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul, experienced on more than one occasion lately when dumpers left old household appliances on the land at the Beckles Road headquarters of the BAS.
In light of the most recent incident, Paul said: “We have a situation in this country where people seem to think they can flout the law and just dump garbage wherever they feel like dumping it. I think they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law because these items (refrigerators, washing machines, mattresses and a stove) are things they can ask the Sanitation Service Authority to move for them.”
Paul lamented that we have laws in place but nothing is done to impose these on illegal and indiscriminate dumping. “Barbadians go overseas and abide by the laws in those countries, so why can’t we treat our own country with the same respect that we give to other people?”
We really have to change our bad habits and find ways to bring them to an end.
First of all, recycling must become a way of life. We suggest that some of the funds generated by the GSC should be channelled into a public relations campaign using the SSA, Barbados Government Information Service and NGOs like the Future Centre Trust to promote recycling, with competitions and other incentives so they will truly buy into it.
One good idea that seems to have fallen by the wayside is the Community Parks Competition that was part of the Community Independence Celebrations in its early days. If such a competition is revived, those responsible for these facilities should be awarded extra points for keeping them in good shape year-round instead of waiting for Independence time to spruce them up.
Recycling bins should be set up in “green spaces” in neighbourhoods and cleared on a regular basis, and fines or other penalties put in place and enforced for those who dump everywhere else but those bins. Once we show that we mean it by imposing the necessary punishment on those who violate the law, we will be well on our way to seeing a cleaner and ultimately healthier Barbados.