On Saturday 15th August the Portsmouth Hospitality Association in Conjunction with SALT and My Salty Passports, working with 4Ocean as part of their Aware Week, undertook the cleaning of a section of Dominica’s coastline between the Indian River Bridge and the Portsmouth Police Station, approximately 300 meters.
We started at about 11:30 am and by 2pm we had extracted from a 50 meter stretch of coastline about two tonnes of garbage including 237 lbs glass bottles / glass, 24lbs metal cans, 166lbs plastic bottles, 21 lbs of Styrofoam containers, and the remainder bits of Galvanize, tyres, and white goods.
Due to the heavy concentration of waste material in that very narrow location we could not proceed to do the rest of the beach as originally intended. The job was indeed a very hard one as our team of 8 adults and 4 children with very basic tools and elbow grease sought to remove galvanized sheeting and tyres buried in the sand, along with all the various bits of litter strewn along the beach.
Apart from the zinc sheeting, it was clear to us the nature of the litter was due to users of the Burrowe’s Square, surrounding businesses and the general population of Portsmouth indiscriminate disposal of their waste. It was not lost on us either that there was absolutely no trash cans or garbage receptacles on the Burrowe’s square on near the area and the prevailing sentiment among those who stopped to cheer us on was that even if there were garbage bins they would soon be overflowing due to an inefficient or non-existent garbage collection system.
Immediate evidence to the meagre capacity of the DSWMC at this time, is that it could not meet its commitment to collect all the waste that was removed from the beaches by the groups which participated on the 15th, in the seven communities around the island; as a result, the garbage collected from the beaches remained piled up for days in a number of the communities which participated in the clean-up.
Off course we are all aware of the vagaries of our waste disposal system on Dominica and more so Portsmouth … here today gone tomorrow, and operational in fits and starts as rhythmic as the weather. It seems Dominicans do not necessarily want to litter or to dispose of their garbage indiscriminately as every one of us at some point complains about the unsightliness of it laments how out of place it is in our environment. The question is … what causes people to continue to dispose of garbage into the environment with apparent disregard for the outcome?
Could it be that there is a sense of hopelessness due to the non-existence of garbage bins and such receptacles? Could it be that the sight of heaps of garbage around the communities fosters in the minds of our people that their individual efforts at waste management is probably an exercise in futility?
This brings me to the question, “What so cripples the DSWMC that it cannot function properly?” Two factors immediately come to mind. It is either a matter of management or capacity/resources. Off course, for a comprehensive solution to the litter and garbage disposal problems various actions have to be undertaken.
The Dominica Litter Act must be strengthened to cater for the costs for bringing matters involving violations of the act before the courts and the proceeds from those actions should go to the coffers of the local authorities rather than the state. Local authorities should also be encouraged to adopt their own ordinances in support of the litter act which may apply to their own localities. This would ensure that local authorities have a vested interest in policing the act and prosecuting offenders.
As it stands the fines associated with littering and improper disposal of waste including derelict vehicles and white goods, do not serve as a deterrent and the act actually burdens the local authorities who are often the ones expected to police the act, with labour and legal costs which given their lack of resources they simply will not entertain. Thus, any penalty imposed by the courts should include all costs of bringing the matter before the courts, plus fines which would serve as deterrent enough to offenders and significant enough to encourage the local authorities to enforce the litter act.
This action should not be taken in the absence of restructuring and strengthening of the DSWMC in such a manner that is will have the capacity to fulfil its mandate of developing solid waste management strategies and facilities for storage, collection, treatment and disposal of solid waste, which should not be limited to the scheduled collection of waste but also ensuring that waste is properly sorted stored at the points of origin.
Without doing an audit of the operations of the Dominica Solid Waste Management Corporation it is clear to see that one of the major problems is a matter of capacity. The DSWMC simply does not have enough equipment or manpower to service the entire island in a manner which would in conjunction with the litter act ensure that we have an effective waste management operation on the island. It also appears that this is well known to the principals of the DSWMC including the Government of Dominica.
Key to acquiring the requisite equipment and human resource is the financing of the DSWMC. As things stands today the DSWMC depends on voluntary contributions for it’s revenue stream; whereas the DSWMC charges fees for collection it really cannot withhold its services in response to none payment of fees as we would soon end up with a garbage problem that the public will be up in arms against regardless of the circumstances.
The solution to this problem seems to be to make payment of garbage collection fees mandatory by developing a vehicle for the collection of these dues. The simplest solution which comes to mind is to attach the DSWMC fees to DOWASCO billing. As such any outstanding fees to DSWMC would form part of the utility bill and be subject to disconnection if left unpaid. We all know that the majority of individuals and households will not allow water to be disconnected for no- payment of services. It may even be prudent to merge the two entities in an effort to maximize the efficient use of any resources that the two may already possess.
The only better vehicle, in my mind, would be to attach the DSWMC bill to the DOMLEC billing, however in as much as DOMLEC is a privately-owned entity that may be a difficult if not impossible proposition.
Clearly the buck stops with the government when it comes to the management and protection of our environment. On that note kudos goes to the administration for the proposed ban on single use plastics and Styrofoam which will go a long way to easing the burden on the landfill. This though will not eliminate the litter problem. Urgent thought needs to be put into the state of our solid waste management operations and swift action taken to remedy the current state of affairs.
Waste management is no longer constrained to the depositing and burial of waste at landfills and Solid Waste Management Operations around the world are now realizing revenue streams from reuse and recycling programs. Holistic thought and planning can ensure that even our waste management systems are brought under the umbrellas of national resilience and sustainability.
The time for action is now!
Ashton Riviere is the Chairman of the Portsmouth Hospitality Association, General Secretary of the Dominica Freedom Party and Former Councilor on the Portsmouth Town Council.