Jamaica’s Garbage Issue

As I write, people are frantically cleaning up Montego Bay after devastating floods on Wednesday afternoon destroyed businesses, washed away houses, carried vendors’ wares floating downstream and turned cars upside down, flipped over by the torrent. Gullies and a river overflowed. The whole of the low-lying downtown area was flooded.

South Street, Montego Bay on Wednesday night. (Photo: Philip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

Apart from the extreme weather (an average one month of rain in just a few hours, according to the Meteorological Service), one of the issues that was raised over and over by commentators was the vast amount of solid waste, washed out from every nook and cranny of the town and swept down from the hills (along with tons of eroded soil from hillsides where unplanned settlements have been built over the years). So the eroded hillsides, bad planning (too much concrete!) and the lack of awareness of – and preparedness for – extreme weather were all factors.

But the garbage. Back to the garbage.

As an illustration of the “solid waste issue,” I am sharing here some photos of our supposedly “upscale” neighbourhood in uptown Kingston.

Where did all of this come from? People passing through in their cars or on foot, apparently dumping bags of garbage by the roadside (these are then torn apart by stray dogs overnight, scattering the contents along the road). Taxi drivers are some of the worst offenders. They stop for a lunch break and a snooze under a tree, and toss their styrofoam lunch boxes and plastic bottles, for someone else to clean up. Now, there is a piece of land for sale, right at the back of the historic Vale Royal building, which is steadily turning into a dump; the chain link fence is broken down. Apart from the disgusting sight of it for residents, this is a health hazard, encouraging vermin and breeding mosquitoes.

It is getting worse – much worse. I cannot fathom or understand this mentality. We have regular garbage collections at our homes. And yet many times we (or sometimes a neighbour’s gardener) have been out on the street, picking up garbage.

If you think I am exaggerating, please look at the photos in the gallery below.

I just don’t understand. What is the answer?


8 thoughts on “Jamaica’s Garbage Issue

  1. Tried to get a phone # for Sheffield District. We had a place to dump until someone ruined that putting dead pigs and dogs in dump and car parts etc. Garbage truck comes whenever and honks horn. Last week came on Monday at 5:30 AM. We missed it. Now you see everyone’s garbage sitting out waiting. Worse cause dogs now find and rip open bags. It’s getting really bad. We need a solution.


    1. Oh good Lord! It’s as if you can’t win! The problem is that one often misses the garbage truck because one doesn’t know when to expect it. We have the same problem with dogs ripping open bags and scattering the trash up and down the street. I can only imagine how challenging it must be in more rural areas. Have you contacted anyone? I’d suggest writing a letter to NSWMA and following up with repeated phone calls… But I agree, solutions ARE needed.


  2. A number of years ago my husband used to take pictures of plastic bags, or as he liked to call them “tree bags”. The amount of plastic bags thrown away, that were hanging empty in trees, bushes, etc was utterly disgusting. We would drive on the highway and actually yell out “tree bag”, and it wasn’t until there was a conscious effort to ban them, that they started disappearing, now it is rare that we see a “tree bag”. Illegal dumping is still a huge problem, and people throwing garbage on the street. How do we stop this? Education is key. Start in schools with our young and literally drill it into their minds, so that they will get on their parents backs. Recycling is a necessity and should also be strictly enforced. Here, in our city we are allowed one garbage bag per week (there are exceptions for large families), with a number of free tags to use on extra garbage throughout the year. It all comes down to regulations, enforcement, & education to save the planet. (Sorry for being so verbose.)


    1. Oh gosh! Plastic bags decorating trees! It reminds me vividly of a small town called Hayes, here in Jamaica. On the outskirts of town are the dry thorny bushes that are a feature of the landscape in that part of the island. The bushes are festooned with “tree bags”! Mostly ripped and weather beaten, and forever caught in the thorns. When we pass by, I yearn to go out and spend hours carefully picking off the half-shredded plastic bags. In Sri Lanka where I was recently (and several other countries) serious efforts are being made to ban the darn things. There is discussion about it here too, even in Parliament. Whether it will actually happen remains to be seen. Public education, yes! Glad to hear your city has things under control, now. Trying to persuade people is not enough, I feel. Strict enforcement is so badly needed!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes – this would be a relatively simple thing to implement, I would think. We already use reusable bags, but many Jamaicans don’t think of doing so. In the UK they also charge 5p per plastic bag, and it has had quite an impact. They are planning to do the same thing with single use plastics, which we are also trying to be careful about.


  3. Jamaicans are just darn nasty. I have no other way to put it. I always say Jamaica is a walking talking paradox because the same side of our culture for which we are renowned and well-loved, causes our problems.For instance the littering. I think it’s that same laid back, ignoring-the-long-term-problems mentality which fuels littering. Those who do it feel “I pay my taxes. Someone will/can clean this up for me.” I’ve seen people litter right next to garbage cans too! It is so ridiculous! Anyway, I think our only hope is still through the youth. Stress on them the importance of not littering, continue to offer competitions (to see who can be the cleanest class etc.) and support/build more primary, high and tertiary environmental clubs so the message can continue to be spread. In 10-20 years we’ll reap the benefits (hopefully).


    1. Sigh. Yes, perhaps the “Jamaica no problem” mentality is partly responsible. It’s also a question of bad habits. I agree with you on our youth. The younger they start learning GOOD habits with garbage, the better (i.e. from basic school). I agree with all your suggestions – we have to keep the pressure up!

      Liked by 1 person

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