EDITORIAL: Taking fresh guard on garbage issue
A SOLUTION to the dispute between waste haulers and the Ministry of the Environment might still be a little distance away, but at least Barbadians can take heart from the fact that the two sides are now talking to each other.
We are already on record as stating we have serious reservations about the implementation of the $25 per tonne tipping fee for all garbage delivered to the Sustainable Barbados Recycling Centre, while at the same time stressing that we did not believe the matter was so complex it could not be resolved with respectful dialogue.
Rather than talking with each other, however, over a period of two weeks the dispute escalated into nothing less than unseemly exchanges between the two sides.
We believe that rather than giving reasoned leadership, Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe took an approach that was unnecessarily inflammatory.
We would have to be blind not to recognise that Barbados has a problem with garbage generation and disposal and that our current approach to resolving this problem is not sustainable. As stated by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss, it is unreasonable to expect the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) to bear 100 per cent of the cost of processing garbage.
In fact, the private waste haulers have themselves admitted that they move more garbage each day than the SSA, 66 per cent to be precise, and most of this is generated by private business entities. On the face of it therefore, there is something unreasonable in an equation where the SSA is covering the cost of waste generated by hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, manufacturers and so on.
Whether or not a tipping fee was imposed, sooner or later the natural order of financing any operation would have dictated that someone would have had to cover this cost. Asking the waste haulers to bear this burden up front and then recoup it from the businesses they serve was a wrong approach and their reaction was quite natural.
Following the advice of Messrs Sinckler and Inniss to allow heads to cool and then sit and talk, showed the introduction of a level of maturity that should have been characteristic of this matter from the beginning.
But, as the saying goes, better late than never.
However, as Minister Inniss pointed out over the weekend, even when this tipping fee issue has been resolved, the country still will have some fundamental questions to answer about how we will manage the national problem of garbage disposal. Government must lead the discussion on separation and recycling and must quickly reach the point of mandating solutions.
The matter of the role of the SSA must also be reviewed. It appears, arising out of this dispute, that private haulers move far more garbage, with fewer workers and less equipment – and consequently at lower cost – than the state agency and if therefore we are seeking greater efficiency, the role of the SSA vis-à-vis private haulers must be re-examined.
It is one thing, for example, for the Government to impose some kind of tax or levy to cover garbage disposal.
It is another to do so when a viable option is the provision of the same service in a most cost-effective manner.
At the least we would wish the finance minister to consider an approach that considered the SSA more as a landfill operator and regulator of garbage collection services than as an exclusive provider for households.
While all over the country households have had to complain from time to time because of poor service by the SSA, we have never once heard any public utterances of dissatisfaction from those businesses that utilise private haulers.
We have never known the minister to run away from a discussion and we therefore look forward to him engaging the nation on this issue.