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Managing waste

Almost two years ago I wrote a column highlighting the effects of litter impacting flood plains. One of the issues raised in that column was that even though the government had been implementing measures to mitigate the effects of flooding on the homes of Barbadians, there seemed to be no social commitment to changing the behaviour of persons continuing to litter the island with their waste. The embarrassment of the continuous action does not seem to have any effect on this behaviour.

A few weeks ago, a group of us toured the area facing Culpepper Island. As we reached the cliffs facing the island, we were immediately greeted with the rusting remains of a REFRIGERATOR. Indiscriminately dumped off the cliff face and left, once more a reminder of how we as a people still treat the only place that we can call our birthright. In considering the impact of continuous illegal dumping of waste across the island, I would like to present the following types of waste for your consideration, and at the same time ask the question; what happens to this waste?

1. Chemical waste is a waste that is made from harmful chemicals mostly produced by industry, medical laboratory facilities; radiator fluids and waste oils from garages; domestic radioactive waste derived from X-ray services and chemotherapy; dry-cleaning or laundry facilities; chemistry labs of educational institutions; industrial cleaning companies and paint manufacturers. Chemical waste falls under regulations of the Barbados Environmental Protection Department, Environmental Health of the Ministry of Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Department of the Ministry of Labour. Chemical waste can also be classified as hazardous waste.

2. Construction waste consists of unwanted material produced directly or incidentally by the construction or industries. This includes building materials such as insulation, nails, electrical wiring, and rebar, as well as waste originating from site preparation such as dredging materials, tree stumps, and rubble. Construction waste may contain lead, asbestos, or other hazardous substances. The majority of building waste is made up of materials such as bricks, concrete and wood damaged or unused for various reasons during construction. Certain components of construction waste such as plasterboard are hazardous once landfilled. Plasterboard is broken down in landfill conditions releasing hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas.

3. Electronic waste, or waste electrical and electronic equipment is discarded electrical or electronic devices. There is no clear consensus by environmentalists as to whether the definition should apply to resale, reuse, and refurbishing industries, or only to products that cannot be used for its original use. Processing of electronic waste in developing countries can contribute to public health and pollution problems. Electronic components such as radios, televisions and computer monitors may contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants. Developed countries recognized that the recycling and disposal of this waste involves significant risk to workers and communities and often institute safety policies to manage exposure. Some industrial countries have also developed methods to reuse and repair electronics, a practice that Barbados will need to urgently consider as it continues to expand its industrial core. They have also recognized that leaching of materials such as heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes is a major source of ground water contamination. Internationally, environmentalists and public health officials agree that all of these materials need to be managed with caution.

4. Food waste, yes, there is waste from the food we consume … Food waste or food loss is food that is discarded or lost, uneaten. The United Nations reported that in 2011, 1.3 billion tons of food, about one third of the global food production, was lost or wasted annually. Food loss and wastage occurs on all steps in the food supply chain. In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production, while in developed countries, according to the UN, most food, about 100 kilograms is wasted at the consumption stage per person per year.

5. Retail stores, restaurants and bars can throw away large quantities of food. These are usually items that have either reached shelf-life expiration or sell-by or use-by dates, or food prepared for sale but not sold the night before. However, retailers have widely varying policies on managing the excess food not sold as retail or in the restaurant industry. Some retailers and wholesalers have also developed programmes to provide the excess supply to poor or homeless people; in addition, charitable organizations are sometimes invited to assist with excess food distribution. Commerce also contributes to food waste as a result of contractual arrangements with suppliers. Failure to accept agreed quantities impacts farmers, and conflicting opinions sometimes places contracts at risk of cancellation. Food producers then react as a consequence by producing more than actually required to allow for a margin of error, with the surplus production simply dumped when not sold.

6. Agriculture waste. Agriculture is a highly intensified industry in many parts of the world, producing a range of wastewaters requiring a variety of treatment technologies and management practices. Soil washed off fields is the largest source of agricultural pollution in any country. Excess sediment causes high levels of turbidity in ground water; it inhibits growth of aquatic plants, pollutes shorelines and severely affects marine life. Waste from pesticides and herbicides are another major factor. These products are widely used by farmers to control plant pests and enhance food production, but chemical pesticides and herbicides can also directly impact water quality for human consumption. Pesticides have been detected in surface water due to direct application, e.g., spraying or runoff from plantations following storms and severe weather. Wastewater from slaughtering activities is another factor. The disposal of any wastewater containing animal waste from farms upstream of any ground water supply can directly affect human consumption water quality. This due in part to the highly resistant spores present in many animals that are capable of causing disabling disease in humans. This risk exists even for very low-level seepage via shallow surface drains or from rainfall run-off.

This subject, while not carrying the same drama as reporting on hurricanes and earthquakes should not be considered as a low priority when compared to the impact of a natural hazard. The effect of improperly managing waste on populations worldwide is one of international concern to health officials. Contaminated storm-water runoff immediately impacts recreational access to our beaches, and open spaces designated as parks. Indiscriminate disposal of chemical waste eventually finds its way into the lives of our children and families, and baffles the minds of medical professionals as they struggle to find a remedy. This is not a one-time story, and next week, we will look at Barbados and what is being done to manage our waste in the long-term.

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