RECENTLY on social media, a resident posted a photo depicting bags of trash dumped at her family member’s grave. She was furious. Imagine going to the cemetery to visit and honor your loved ones only to find a pile of trash left behind by irresponsible and disrespectful illegal dumpers. You’d be furious, too.

As chairman of the CNMI Universal Garbage Collection Task Force, I strongly advocate for the strict enforcement of anti-littering laws in the Marianas to penalize violators. However, legal action should be complemented with an efficient system that would address our never-ending problems with waste management. Again I remind our community that thousands of containers of goods come into the CNMI and NOT ONE container of waste is exported. It all goes into the landfill or is randomly discarded.

A substantial percentage of our garbage and solid waste is household waste, which can become hazardous if not collected or adequately managed. Yes, organic domestic waste such as leftover food can pose a serious threat when they ferment and create conditions favorable to the survival and growth of microbial pathogens. The flies, maggots and other pests you see surrounding a pile of trash left at a picnic site near the beach not only smell bad but also spreads diseases.

Regular collection of solid waste keeps neighborhoods clean and reduces health risks. Solid waste collection means gathering it from where it is produced — from homes and businesses — and transporting it, either to an intermediate collection site or to a final place of recycling or disposal.

There are three types of waste collection:

• Household collection results when members of a family collect their solid waste in containers and carry it to a composting, recycling or disposal site or secondary storage. This is suitable for the collection of small amounts of waste at the local or neighborhood level. Waste is processed and disposed of at a transfer station or landfill.

• Neighborhood collection results when a representative of several households collects their waste and takes it to a composting, recycling, or disposal site. This is suitable for the collection of larger amounts of waste and will require a motor vehicle. Most community collection in the CNMI is through commercial entities and is currently the most utilized method in the Commonwealth.

• Community collection is when households and businesses put their waste out and paid government hired contractors collect the waste containers and sort them to a community composting, recycling, or disposal site. This is a communal collection system where households are issued waste containers and / or recycling bins that are placed at the curb for collection on a regular schedule. Larger trash containers are also placed in common public areas and are also collected on a schedule.

This method requires fees to pay for the waste collection contractors but residents and businesses will no longer need to haul or drive to dispose of their garbage. Ultimately, this arrangement reduces the cost per household to collect their trash as the collection cost is spread over the entire population (universal). Universal Garbage Collection also allows the CNMI to easily gravitate towards recycling and other “green” opportunities for our CNMI community.

Under our proposed Universal Garbage Collection system, we are suggesting having a community solid waste disposal system. Our current garbage collection process utilizes collection contractors, but the systematic collection and availability of appropriate trash containers in critical places are not enough to meet the community’s demand. Placement of waste containers at homes, businesses, and markets will make it accessible to the collection team. Establishing a collection route is also essential in keeping efforts efficient. Routes should be as short and simple as possible and end as near and practical to the disposal site.

Currently only 4,000-5,000 households and businesses out of the 12,000 homes and businesses in Saipan utilize the current trash collection scheme. Where do the other 7,000-8,000 homes and businesses take their garbage? Your guess is as good as mine.

Can 1,000 enforcement officers monitor 9,000 homes and businesses 24 hours a day? IMPOSSIBLE! This is why you see your neighbors dumping their trash in parking lots or driving to the boonies to illegally dispose of their garbage. This behavior passes the burden to the entire community, and we will pay an even higher price as their garbage pollutes the soil, ocean and our drinking water sources. This puts our entire community health and safety at serious risk.

If we continue to believe that garbage is not our shared responsibility, we are condemning our children to a polluted environment.

For more information about the Universal Garbage Collection initiative, visit the GCEA website at cnmieconomy.com. Engage with the UGC Task Force via email at gceacnmi@gmail.com

Gary Sword is vice president of the KKMP radio station, and has extensive experience in power, water, wastewater, and solid waste services. Gary serves as a member of the Domestic Policy Recovery Committee for the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers.

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