Last week, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) released two brief reports on its trash-collecting activity in 2017. JET is the national coordinator of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) day each September, and the organizer of the year-round Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica campaign. The reports detailed the amount and kinds of trash cleared from Jamaica’s shorelines by the ICC, and from roadsides and recreation areas by Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica’s community cleanups.
The ICC report shows that 9,675 volunteers cleared just over 80 tons of trash from more than 100 miles of shoreline last September. For three years now, Jamaica’s Coastal Cleanup Day results have ranked among the top 20 in the world according to the event’s global coordinators, the Ocean Conservancy.
The Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica report lists fourteen community groups that organized cleanups of beaches, parks, playing fields and roadsides in eleven parishes. About 650 volunteers picked up 5,431 pounds of garbage. The bottom line is that there is always plenty of trash lying around, almost anywhere you care to look for it.
Plastic drink bottles were the most common items in both cleanups. The ICC found 298,972 of them, and the community cleanups added another 15,517. Most of the rest was fallout from eating and drinking – foam and plastic containers, cups, plates, knives and forks, bottle caps and a surprising number of glass bottles.
There is no doubt that a country drowning in garbage will make a poor impression on visitors. It’s no treat for those who live here either. Garbage on the seashores and roadsides looks ugly, smells bad, breeds germs and mosquitoes, attracts flies and rats, and is dangerous to wildlife and children. Picking it up and disposing of it is a Good Thing, but when those two hours of cleanup are done we’re not finished. Not even close.
Opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle may be limited, but it shouldn’t be hard to get more of our garbage into containers. If there were enough bins in the right places, and if the bins were cleared regularly, it would reduce the garbage problems of parks, beaches and city streets. However, that would mean more garbage going to the dumps, and they can’t keep up with what they’re getting now.
The dumps could handle their load better if a lot of it was converted into energy. The technology for producing electricity from municipal waste is well established and widely used around the world. The government has acknowledged receiving a number of proposals for waste-to-energy projects and Kaiser Green Energy has a small-scale demonstration facility in St. Thomas. Perhaps the time has come to give one or more of these projects serious consideration.
There is good popular support for a plastics recycling program – one that would at least take those thousands of discarded drink bottles – but two important things are lacking. There are no convenient collection points for households and small businesses, and there is only a limited (and not very profitable) market for the bottles once they are collected.
There is a little progress on collection. Jamaica Recycling Partners – a major supporter of the cleanup campaigns – now has facilities in Port Maria, Montego Bay, Negril, and Manchester. It would be a big step forward if households could send their plastic drink bottles to school with the children, or take them to church, to be picked up on the monthly visit of the Recycling Partners truck. It would be even better if every garbage bag full of bottles was worth a few dollars to the school or church.
All those bottles could be put to good use with some investment in Jamaican manufacturing. Again, there is well-established technology using plastic scrap to make household articles, building materials, and road-surfacing compounds. Now, we export plastic and import finished products at greatly marked-up prices. If the whole process could be done here, everybody would win.