In preparation for the upcoming Earth Day celebrations at the YMCA, I dropped in at The Jamaica Environmental Trust this morning. The JET is a non-profit, non-governmental organization with the mission of protecting Jamaica’s natural resources using education, conservation, advocacy and the law to influence individual and organizational behaviour and public policy and practice. It was founded by a group of concerned citizens in 1991 and today includes a membership of nearly 500 citizens and 80 corporate partners.

Their current public engagement campaign is called ‘Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica‘, and it is close to my heart. When I first arrived in Jamaica, I was dismayed at the amount of litter around. There are very few waste sorting options available, so all types of garbage go to the Riverton Landfill, which is located between Kingston and Portmore right next to the harbour; I shudder to think of the nastiness leeching into the waterways that border the landfill on three sides. If the waste isn’t littering the street or in a truck on its way to Riverton, it is being burned in a pile on the side of the road. The garbage would have been bad enough on its own, but the way waste is handled on the island makes it a water and air pollution problem too.

Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica uses community based social marketing principles to encourage Jamaicans to to improve their knowledge about the impact of poorly handled waste on public health and the environment, while encouraging personal responsibility for the generation and disposal of waste. These are the same techniques we use on a daily basis at my job with the BC Government, where one of the projects I was working on before I left was a zero waste program for government buildings. It’s fun to see how well this approach works in any cultural or geographical context.

There are Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica branded waste bins popping up all around town, prompts on bus stops and posters, and the JET offers plastic recycling at their office, but I think one of the best things the campaign has to offer are their fantastic public service announcements teaching waste reduction principles. This one is my favourite, but you can watch them all on the NDUJ website. Not only are they great examples of community based social marketing, they are also a great patwa lesson!

Some facts on solid waste in Jamaica (from the National Environment and Planning Agency of Jamaica):

  • As much as 50 percent of the solid waste generated in the country is attributed to the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA). Approximately 80 percent of the total waste generated in the country is collected by five Parks and Markets Companies, private companies wholly-owned by the Government. The quality of their service has been deteriorating because of budgetary constraints. Approximately 20 percent of the generated waste is handled by private collectors.
  • Official waste disposal sites in Jamaica all have a high potential for contributing to pollution of soil, water and air. They lack conventional solid waste disposal site equipment, resulting in inadequate and improper burial of solid waste. Unauthorized dumpsites proliferate and these can usually be found in remote areas where detection is difficult. These are often created by private waste disposal contractors who sometimes despoil water ways and beach lands.
  • Substantial installation and/or upgrading of waste management facilities are required for both public and private sectors. A national solid waste management study is to be conducted, with support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), from which a rationalization of the current solid waste system will be effected. Rationalisation of the existing unacceptable dump sites is expected to be recommended as well as upgrading to sanitary landfills. The Government has already targeted the Kingston Metropolitan Region (KMR), Montego Bay and the other tourist resort towns as areas for priority attention.
  • Ship-generated waste is also a concern as the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78) requires that home ports must have port reception facilities to treat and dispose of these wastes. Jamaica has not yet identified such port facilities. Ship-generated waste is expected to increase with more cruise ships coming to the island and with other developments such as floating restaurants and house boats. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has established a regional centre in Trinidad to assist Jamaica and other Caribbean nations in dealing with this problem.
  • The national average sewage generation has been put at about 455 million litres per day (100 MGD). Of this about 25 percent is collected and treated in established treatment systems and the remainder disposed of by way of on-site disposal systems (pit latrines, soak-aways, septic tanks, etc.). The major urban centres of Kingston and St. Andrew, Montego Bay, South East St. Catherine and Clarendon account for about 50 percent of the waste generated. Treatment facilities in these areas are inadequate, with the most critical environmental manifestation being the pollution of Kingston Harbour.
  • Improper sewage treatment and disposal is the main contributor to pollution of Kingston Harbour. In this regard, the infrastructure for sewage disposal needs improvement. The Government has recognized this need and there is a programme underway for clean-up of the Harbour funded by the World Bank, International Development Agency and United Nations Environment Programme and involving a sewage collection and treatment system for the Kingston Metropolitan Area. The government has also embarked on projects to improve sewage treatment and disposal systems in two tourist resort towns, Ocho Rios and Negril, with funding support from the European Development Fund of the European Community.
  • Special wastes such as medical waste, tires and hazardous wastes pose particular problems in Jamaica. The present system of incinerators for medical waste appears plagued by poor design, poor operation and inadequate and irregular maintenance. The implications for waste handlers and scavengers are serious. Scrap tires in landfills tend to deteriorate very slowly and provide a mosquito breeding ground. Hazardous waste often ends up at dump sites with other solid waste material because of the absence of a hazardous waste dump facility in the country.
  • Critical concerns related to waste management in Jamaica include:
    • delays in implementation of appropriate waste management schemes due to the lack of a comprehensive waste management policy;
    • application of waste management technology has not sufficiently responsive to changing conditions;
    • inadequate attention is paid to specific physical characteristics of the island (alluvial, coastal or hilly limestone); and
    • lack of awareness in the general population of the importance of proper waste management practices.