Mon | Mar 4, 2024

Editorial | NSWMA needs help

Published:Sunday | December 3, 2023 | 12:08 AM
In this file photo, garbage is seen piled up along Michael Manley Boulevard.
In this file photo, garbage is seen piled up along Michael Manley Boulevard.

This month makes seven years that Audley Gordon has been the executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), the agency that runs Jamaica’s landfills and regulates the collection of garbage in the island. That’s a long time.

Yet, Mr Gordon still addresses issues relating to his job like a new hire, apparently floundering to articulate a clear policy and programme to deal with Jamaica’s crisis of garbage, including plastics. At least, that’s how it seems to reasonable people.

Mr Gordon appeared before Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) last week to discuss a plastic and non-biodegradable solid waste management report (which hasn’t been widely published) that showed that Jamaica has made only marginal headway in limiting plastic waste despite the ban five years ago on most single-use plastic carrying bags, plastic drinking straws and polystyrene food containers. And we are certainly not doing a good job at meaning it. The NSWMA’s effort at separating garbage is negligible. Which Mr Gordon suggested was beyond the agency’s and, therefore, his control.

According to Mr Gordon, Jamaica generates an estimated 182,743 tonnes of plastic waste, or 16.8 per cent of all solid waste. That suggests that the island generated approximately 1,087,756 tonnes of waste, four per cent more than what the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) reported, in its latest Economic and Social Survey, the NSWMA as collecting in 2022. Moreover, plastics as a percentage of all solid waste, based on this data, has grown about two per cent since the institution of the partial ban on plastics, which the government says it plans to widen to close loopholes.

The evidence of Jamaica’s garbage problem is obvious across the island – mounds of uncollected refuse on the sides of roads, especially in poor communities, and in the plastics drinks and other bottles that clog gutters, rivers, streams before they eventually make their way to the sea and mangroves.

PLAYING CATCH-UP

Mr Gordon conceded that Jamaica is “playing catch-up” with respect to its management of plastics.

“We should by now be separating plastics, but there are a lot of impediments,” he said. Which he characterised as a collective failure of “all of us as a society”, not of the NSWMA.

A critical shortcoming to advancing the authority’s goals, Mr Gordon claimed, was the absence of regulations that should underpin the NSWMA Act which was passed in 2001. “That’s 22 years (and they are) still not in place,” he said.

Twenty-two years is indeed a long time. But Mr Gordon has been CEO of the NSWMA for nearly a third of that period. He has clearly not been effective in convincing the government of the urgency of those rules, so as to have them drafted and approved by Parliament.

In any event, he didn’t show and explain how specifically the absence of these regulations hampered the agency’s operating capabilities and to the ability of its management to more efficiently utilise the limited resources he said it possesses.

What specifically Mr Gordon wants is money – $375 million for public education, presumably to tell people that they should, and how to separate plastics from the rest of their garbage. The current $20 million education budget isn’t big enough.

“As an agency, we know what to do,’ he said. “We’re quite capable, were we to be resourced” and got “buy-in from the public”, he added.

SHORTAGE OF TRUCKS

There was also, Mr Gordon claimed, a shortage of trucks, to move separated plastic waste, rather than mingling it with compacted garbage.

“There is no point having people separate their waste and you don’t have the capacity to go and collect the plastic if you’re going to mix it back with the compactable,” he said. “It defeats the purpose.”

So he hopes that the agency will receive a few tipper trucks, which, by his own admission, will make only a small dent in the problem. Apparently, Mr Gordon’s greatest hope rests with an “enterprise team”, which apparently is working towards the divestment of elements of the NSWMA’s operations, including the establishment as transfer stations for recyclable garbage. The enterprise team was also to be taking bids for waste-to-energy projects.

But such a team, in various interactions, has been around for at least a decade and a half. Hopefully, Mr Gordon will forgive this newspaper if, like some members of the PAAC, we are extremely sceptical that the NSWMA is placing its faith in the arrangement for transformative things to happen in Jamaica’s solid waste management.

Solid waste management is a very specialised field that overlaps with environmental management, engineering and logistics – skills which are not immediately apparent in the NSWMA’s governance structure. Maybe, the administration should, for the medium term, find Jamaicans working at high levels in solid waste management to second to the NSWMA to right-side its operations.