Last time I visited Fort Rocky, along the road to Port Royal, I was in the company of archaeologist Heidi Savery and a band of intrepid Jamaican and American scholars and students. Yesterday could not have been more different. I was helping out at the registration tent of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), who organized one of the major activities for International Coastal Clean Up Day, September 21. The government’s National Environment & Planning Agency was toiling away not far down the road; and much cleaning was under way at many sites around the island.
The sky was an impenetrable grey, and when I arrived at 7:30 a.m. there was not a breath of wind. The ocean was still and opaque, with no sunlight to illuminate it. The beach behind Fort Rocky is on the open sea. The mangroves of Kingston Harbour (or what’s left of them, after the depredations of China Harbour Engineering Company’s work on the airport road) lie on the other side of this narrow spit of land. We set up in our tent, and waited for the invasion to begin.
Indeed, a veritable army of mostly young people descended on us throughout the morning – roughly two thousand, far more than expected. Eventually JET ran out of gloves and we at the registration table ran out of free bananas and other stuff. The early volunteers arrived and got straight to work. The later ones (including a horde of university students) found what work they could and then retreated inside the Fort Rocky compound for some relaxation (as is often the case in Jamaica, there was a certain amount of socializing). And we actually had to ship out some groups to a nearby site, as we were, as they say, “over-capacity.”
Meanwhile, the unruly pile of filled garbage bags slouched, and spread, and grew steadily higher until it was as tall as the tallest of us.
Some time after lunch, the Fort was quiet again. We could hear the sound of the waves. And the beach… Well, not a scrap of paper or plastic to be found.
Congratulations and thanks to the fantastic Jamaica Environment Trust team (led by energetic Program Director Suzanne Stanley), the amazing sponsors and all the great volunteers for making this a memorable day! I have added a few photos below – you can find a photo album on my Facebook page, too.
Related links and articles:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130922/news/news4.html Huge turnout for International Coastal Cleanup Day: Sunday Gleaner
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/unprecedented-response-to-international-beach-clean-up-day-in-jamaica/ Unprecedented response to International Beach Cleanup Day in Jamaica: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/reduce-reuse-recycle/ Reduce, reuse, recycle: petchary.wordpress.com
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/pollution-flowing-from-land-to-sea-the-un-caribbean-environment-programme-part-1/ Pollution flowing from land to sea: The UN Caribbean Environment Programme,, Part 1
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/lets-save-jamaicas-portland-bight-protected-area/ Let’s save Jamaica’s Portland Bight Protected Area: petchary.wordpress.com
http://www.upworthy.com/people-should-know-about-this-awful-thing-we-do-and-most-of-us-are-simply-unaware?g=3&c=ufb1 Trailer for “Midway,” a powerful documentary directed by Chris Jordan on the impact on wildlife of trash in our oceans. To donate to the makers of this film, please visit midwayfilm.com.
Has our little island of Jamaica adopted this mantra, over the years? I would answer with a resounding “NO.”
The island has been slowly disappearing under growing piles of garbage since the 1980s. It’s everywhere you look – on the roadsides, on beaches, in the sea, in gullies in the city and in the forested gullies of the countryside, in any public location. Even in tourist resorts. It’s one reason why I don’t enjoy going to the beach, any more – unless it’s one of those well-manicured hotel beaches. But in general, we Jamaicans like to spread our garbage – scatter it far and wide. We throw it out of the windows of buses and plush SUVs, without a care in the world. Even on our street, which is supposed to be in a fairly well-to-do uptown residential area, our posh neighbors virtually ignore garbage dumped on their doorstep and generously distributed by the ubiquitous stray dogs and street people. Eventually, they may tell their gardeners to go out and pick it up.
I get odd looks when I go outside the gate and collect garbage deposited on the sidewalk near our house. What on earth is she doing out there? our neighbors are thinking. But how long does it take to pick up a couple of plastic bottles? Five minutes or less?
It is mostly sheer laziness and carelessness. We like our houses and our cars to be tidy and clean, but beyond that – well, someone else can do it. It’s not our responsibility.
Littering is one thing. Getting citizens into the recycling mindset – and actually organizing it on a larger scale – is another.
So I was delighted to hear that a new recycling company has set up shop in Jamaica. Jamaica Recycles is backed by the U.S.-based International Recycling and Reclamation Limited. It will focus on plastic (the curse of the developing world) and paper, initially. Residents in the area around the huge Riverton City garbage dump on the edge of the city will benefit from collecting plastic from surrounding communities. Jamaica Recycles will also work with the Jamaican government’s National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), which has completely fallen down on the job in recent months (one suspects because they have no money to pay truck drivers to actually collect garbage). But that’s another story. I should add in NSWMA’s defense that this lack of resources is a chronic problem; and that the agency is trying to get a Plastic Container Separation Pilot Project under way, which is a start. They recognize the problem, but…
In the next couple of years, all being well, Jamaica Recycles will expand into areas outside Kingston – in particular into western Jamaica. This would be most welcome. Garbage collection in many districts outside the city is even more unreliable. I do hope they make lots of money out of this venture.
Along with it, I would like to see a really meaningful public education campaign. Not “Don’t litter! It’s really naughty and bad.” A campaign which shows, as graphically as possible, the impact of this tide of trash on our health, on our still beautiful environment, on our precious, fragile tourism industry. Something punchy.
If you want to know more about the impact of land-based pollution – that is, all the nasty stuff we produce and then pour into our ocean and rivers and groundwater – then you should talk to Mr. Christopher Corbin, Program Officer for the Assessment and Management of Environmental Pollution at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Caribbean. If you want to find out what pollution is doing to the areas we are trying to protect, and to the creatures that live in them (in particular the fish that many depend on for a living) then talk to UNEP’s Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, who administers the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife program. Along with several media representatives, I met with these dedicated people last week at the UNEP office for a long and incredibly informative session. Much more on that to follow in future blog posts.
One interesting project has emerged that is quite promising and innovative. It is called Island Cycle and it is a “Trash to Art” program organized by young Kingston-dwellers. The project hopes to offer inspiration – and income – to the residents of Riverton City. Look at the conditions in communities surrounding the Riverton City dump, and more about the project, in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=i6KulUD-MZk Also check out their crowd-funding site below, and support!
I read somewhere that there are “other options” for garbage disposal. These are:
Generate - capturing useful material for waste to energy programs. Includes Methane collection, gasification, and digestion, and the term Recover.
Incinerate - high temperature destruction of material. Differs from gasification in that oxygen is used; differs from burning in that high temperatures consume material efficiently and emissions are controlled.
Devastate - to discard into the natural environment, or to “trash” the planet. Includes litter, landfill, burn barrels, unnecessary vehicle idling, and dumping discards onto land or into water.
Jamaica is much, much too good at the Devastate option. Do we really want to destroy our island with trash?
On a personal note: We already recycle much of the garbage from our Kingston home. We drop off all our plastics and glass at the Jamaica Environment Trust. We take our newspapers to the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA), who are always in need. There are probably other places where you can take your trash; I understand that there is a recycling center in the western town of Negril, for example. These are the ones I know that would be handy for Kingston dwellers.
Jamaica Environment Trust: Earth House, 11 Waterloo Road, Kingston 10. Tel: (876) 960-3693. Email: email@example.com. Website: http://www.jamentrust.org
United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme: 14-20 Port Royal Street, Kingston. Tel: (876) 922-9267-9. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.cep.unep.org
Related articles and websites:
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-recycling-company-opens-in-Kingston New recycling company opens in Kingston: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130116/business/business4.html New garbage recycling company launches in Kingston: Gleaner
http://www.select6.co/projects/trash-2-art-empowering-riverton-city#.UPrLY6V5m5Q Island Cycle Trash to Art Project: crowd-funding website
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120902/lead/lead10.html Recycle worry: Plastic bottles flood Jamaica: Gleaner
http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/recycling-does-not-reduce-waste Recycling does not reduce waste: Small Footprint Family
http://www.jamentrust.org Jamaica Environment Trust
http://www.jspca.info Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA)
http://www.cep.unep.org United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP)
First Reduce, Then Reuse and Recycle Last (1800recycling.com)
No Matter What, Recycling Is Worth the Effort (yobynos.wordpress.com)