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Taking out the trash

Comments / 515 Views / Friday, 14 July 2017 00:00

In these columns yesterday we praised the Government’s call for a ban on the use, sale and production of polythene lunch sheets, rigifoam lunchboxes and shopping bags. While credit must be given where it’s due, the authorities must also be taken to task for their gross mismanagement of the ever worsening garbage problem in urban areas.

With dengue reaching epidemic levels never seen before in the country, the Government has been widely criticised for not curtailing the garbage issue which experts have pointed out has directly contributed to the spread of the deadly disease. Already over 84,000 cases of infections have been reported islandwide over the past seven months. The garbage problem has been particularly bad in the Western Province, which accounts for 43% of the country’s cases, making it the hardest hit, and the correlation is obvious even if causation may be difficult to prove.

Previously, the Government had announced plans to remove Meethotamulla after the continuous protestations of the people of the area following April’s incident – a tragically belated measure to say the least. It had also promised comprehensive solutions to the larger garbage problem and pledged to resolve red tape and logistical issues. But after the initial furore died out the Government initiatives have languished with no progress and attention has been diverted. And things have only gotten worse.

While the Government’s resolve to ban polythene is indeed commendable, it goes without saying that there is a lot more it can do to solve the garbage crisis that’s currently plaguing the cities. Needless to say, poorly managed waste spreads disease, contaminates water resources, increases the cost of potable water, increases flooding, pollutes the air and repulses tourists.

One solution that has been suggested is to approach solid waste management as a supply chain where each link can be monetised to bring people on board and reduce the pain of finding a garbage dump on your doorstep. It would also mean that many people who want to make a difference but don’t know how to get about it will be drawn into a comprehensive plan. An additional advantage is that contradictory and piecemeal policies will be streamlined to maximise effectiveness.     

As we have pointed out before in these columns, it is possible to turn trash into treasure with the revenue opportunities available in solid waste. For example user fees for collection of solid waste are usually kept artificially low. Collection can be facilitated by combining waste management bills with electricity bills (as in Mombasa) or water bills (as in Addis Ababa). Municipal taxes can provide a solid revenue stream but are usually spread over a small part of the total population.

Speaking of population, the people of this country also have a decisive role to play. The average citizen’s responsibility regarding garbage should be obvious but there appears to be an inexplicable lack of awareness or concern. The Government and much of the public were content to let the brunt of this situation be borne by a few, but now faced with a new reality it is up to everyone to force the hands that procrastinated for so long to ensure that history never repeats itself.


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