THE other day someone asked me why it is important for the Marianas to develop a universal garbage collection plan now. I told them that there’s a sense of urgency to provide the service for many important reasons, one of which is that it is an investment in our people’s health, quality of life, and future. Moreover, we need to protect our environment and natural resources from pollution before it’s too late.
The management of waste materials is a worldwide problem, not just a local one. Urbanization and population growth are solely responsible for the increasing rate of solid waste, and the proper management of that waste is a major problem for all small Pacific Island communities. Islands have shifted from subsistence living — tending to farms and fishing for food — to becoming small cities with growing populations that are producing higher volumes of waste materials.
The problems are particularly evident on small islands where there is little land available for landfill waste disposal. This impacts potable groundwater resources. In many Pacific Islands, waste management involves the uncontrolled and semi-controlled dumping of rubbish at official and unofficial sites. The sites are commonly located on low-lying unoccupied land, mangrove areas, or un-purposed lands. Often the sites are not staffed, and there is no equipment to compact and cover the deposited waste.
Improper trash disposal and management cause all types of pollution: air, soil, and water. Haphazard dumping of wastes contaminates surface and groundwater supplies. In urban areas, solid waste clogs drains, creating stagnant water for insect breeding and floods during rainy seasons. Uncontrolled burning of trash contributes significantly to air pollution and jungle fires. Greenhouse gases are generated from the decomposition of organic wastes in landfills, and untreated leachate pollutes surrounding soil and water bodies.
This is where we will see health and safety issues arising from improper or illegal disposal. Insects, flies, and rodents are attracted to the wastes and can spread cholera, dengue fever, and enteric infections. If polluted water is used for bathing, food irrigation, and drinking water, our people will be exposed to diseases, organisms, and other contaminants.
Poorly disposed rubbish contaminates the groundwater with nitrates, heavy metals, and other chemicals. Open burning of wastes pollutes the air with particulates and oxides of Sulphur and nitrogen. The ashes from open burning may result in leachates that are rich in heavy metals and other potentially toxic substances. Leachate is a contaminated liquid that is produced from water percolating through trash disposal or burn site, accumulating contaminants, and sinking into our water tables.
The U.S. Public Health Service has identified 22 human diseases that are linked to improper Solid Waste Management. To put it plainly, it is a very scary picture for humans and animals when solid waste is not properly stored, collected, and processed.
The ultimate goal of the Universal Garbage Collection or UGC is to improve the quality of life for all residents. The lack of attention given to human health, environment, and safety issues cannot be attributed to cost factors. Modern societies depend on regular, efficient trash removal. Ask a relative who lives stateside if they can do without their solid waste program. Compare their modern and convenient process for disposing of garbage versus our current system. Which would you prefer?
In the past, most communities used to have a reactive approach to dealing with waste management and investing only in times of emergencies or when pushed by regulatory compliance issues. Instead, our community can approach Universal Garbage Collection as an investment, not a cost, in our community. It is a very small price to pay for clean water, good health, and a viable economy for the Marianas.
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.