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…Solid Waste Director bemoans disregard for garbage collectors, waste management
By Lisa Hamilton
Garbage collectors — while some in society look upon them with scorn, these are the people who risk their health almost daily to clean up after citizens, many of whom make their workload greater by littering or improperly disposing of their waste.
This is the reminder of Solid Waste Management Director, Walter Narine, who recently sat down with the Village Voice News to speak about the Department’s ongoing projects, plans and challenges. He said that despite efforts to educate and discourage Georgetown residents against improper waste management, the majority have not fostered a culture towards reducing waste or against non-productive acts such as littering. As a result, not only is the capital city leaving a bad impression in the minds of tourists, but it is making the work of garbage collectors much more taxing.
“Many of us, when we’re sleeping at home getting our rest, these guys are out there cleaning the garbage. They put themselves at risk to a lot of diseases…they leave their families at home very early in the morning to come to service the citizens of Georgetown and we should be appreciative of them,” Narine said.
He added: “I’d like to advocate that somewhere along the line we should change their entire title from garbage collectors or sanitation workers to environmental sustainability officers. Coupled with that, give them a proper package, give them a salary that is equal to the work that they do.”
SAVING WITH A PLAN
As head of the Solid Waste Management at the Mayor and City Council (M&CC), Narine works along with garbage collectors to ensure that the city of Georgetown is making an effort to manage its solid waste. Speaking of ongoing accomplishments, Narine said that over the past three years, the Government has purchased new garbage trucks annually for the Municipality. As a result, the Council now saves over $4 million a month, having been able to successfully reclaim some of the areas in Georgetown previously being serviced by private garbage contractors.
For 2021 and onward, the Municipality plans to utilise the money saved to purchase new garbage trucks so that, eventually, it will not have to rely on private contractors and all the money saved can go towards community development. This could see the Council receiving enough finances to maintain the parapets in the city and beautify its surroundings to acceptable standards. “We’re going to look at the internal drains; Council is also responsible for the weeding and maintaining of parapets which we seldom do. Those kinds of monies that we would be saving, once we manage the city of Georgetown, that will be going towards community development and fostering better relationships by having more recreational grounds available for communities,” Narine said.
Currently, the Council has three new garbage trucks, and another currently being serviced, which can handle mixed waste and are manually operated, as is the preference of the Solid Waste Management Department. However, some eight garbage trucks are needed for garbage collection in Georgetown to be fully manned by the Solid Waste Management workers. The garbage trucks cost between GYD$38M – GYD$58M.
IT’S A COLLECTIVE EFFORT
However, no matter how many garbage trucks the municipality acquires, how effective they are it comes down to the manner in which Guyanese manage their solid waste. Narine said that, unfortunately, most Guyanese do not practice proper waste management. Apart from littering noticed across the capital, there are illegal dumpsites being kept alive by habitual litterbugs, vendors, business owners and the vagrants hired by some of the aforementioned to dump garbage.
Addressing the latter, he said: “Vagrancy is a big challenge to us. They are living on the streets and they will get a small piece from vendors and businesses to dispose of the garbage. Now, they do not have the knowledge of putting it in a bin, so, any open space that they have they’ll go dump it there and the faster they get there to come back is more business for them.”
Narine said that there needs to be a strategy among Ministries such as the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security to remove vagrants from the streets to shelters even as the Solid Waste Management Department works to rid the city of illegal dumpsites.
“The Municipality of Georgetown is paying contractors to collect garbage in these areas so I find it mindboggling to understand why vendors are still giving vagrants their garbage. They just have to wait on the arrival of the garbage contractors to collect the garbage,” he lamented.
Furthermore, Narine said that the owners of several empty lots where garbage is being dumped are also to be blamed for failing to fence their lots which is a requirement by law.
GREATER ENFORCEMENT NEEDED
The City Constabulary can charge persons for littering but the fine is a meagre $10,000.
The Council has approved new littering by-laws which propose fines between $25,000 to $100,000 for littering. However, before such is enacted into law, it must first be put out to the public for awareness, consultations and recommendation; the data gathered, must be sent to the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development for approval; then it is taken to Parliament to be enacted.
The Municipality is still at the first stage of public awareness, consultation and recommendations. Narine said that COVID-19 has not helped the cause but online efforts will be considered. On the other hand, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has anti-littering legislation which could see persons being fined between $50,000 to $500,000. However, the EPA lacks litter wardens for enforcement and, either way, this money, according to Narine, would be placed in the Government’s Consolidated Fund as opposed to the Municipality.
The Council, therefore, hopes that legislation can be put in place to ensure that when littering laws are strengthened with greater fines, that these fines are paid to the Municipality as this is the very body that will be responsible for cleaning up the litter of those fined. Narine also suggested that some of the fines paid be returned to the EPA to pay for the hiring of litter wardens.
There is also hope for the Solid Waste Management Bill to be placed back on the agenda even as the same received the attention of Local Government and Regional Development Minister, Nigel Dharamlal last year. The Solid Waste Management Director is currently trying to engage the EPA, the Commissioner of Police, Fire Chief and the Ministers responsible for tourism and local government in Guyana to devise a plan to tackle Guyana’s solid waste management, utilizing oil resources. “Everybody that comes into our country gets an image of the entire country by Georgetown, the capital, everything happens here. And, if the city of Georgetown is dirty then you’ll say the entire country is dirty. So, if we put tourism at the forefront and start working from there coming down, then you would see a more collaborative effort,” he proposed.
Narine is big on education coupled with enforcement and also touts the benefits of residents composting organic solid wastes for several benefits, including healthier kitchen gardens. Soon, the Municipality will begin composting on a small scale to lead by example. As the Council and Solid Waste Department does itS job, Narine hopes that Guyanese will show respect to garbage collectors — the people who clean up afterwards –by practising the most applicable means of solid waste management and desisting for all forms of littering.