Two types of waste

Last week my column focused on six areas of waste created, collected and, sometimes unceremoniously dumped in a variety of places not designated as approved sites. There are those that would have said, that since Barbados TODAY is a widely read publication with readers in many countries, and that it might not have been wise, from a positive public relations point of view, to have highlighted the bad habits of some of the environmental social behaviours of Barbados.

However, we are not alone in this arena and even without the publication of that column; it would still have been very difficult to hide this behaviour from the public eye, due to what many Barbadian and Caribbean environmentalists have described as “a total disregard of the region’s fragile environmental fabric”. Our highlighting the refrigerator dumped off the cliffs facing Culpepper Island further supported this opinion.

The issue here is not the possible negative aspects of the column, but the fact that the region’s media also recognises that this is a behaviour that continues regardless of whether it is published, or the actions taken by governments against the violators of its statutes and regulations.

Waste management is a completely different administrative and regulatory process when compared to resource management and control. Resource management and control is the development and implementation of global systems that reduces the rate of overall consumption of the planet’s natural resources. All waste materials, whether they are solid (any form of particulate), liquid, gas, or radioactive fall within the category of waste management. These practices differ dramatically between developed and developing countries in urban and rural communities and cities, as well as residential and industrial producers of such materials.

Management for non-hazardous residential and institutional waste is the responsibility of government, while management for non-hazardous commercial (laundries and cleaning companies) and industrial waste (textile manufacturers and construction companies) is the responsibility of the generator subject to legislative statutes, regulations and managerial standards.

Internationally, waste management has been described and accepted, as the collection, transport, processing and or disposal, managing and monitoring of waste materials. This applies to any and all materials produced and consumed either for human or animal consumption. It also describes the procedures required as a result of this material production, the steps necessary to mitigate the effects on human health and animal and marine life; the environment (public and private lands inclusive of drinking water and the oceans); and the air that we breathe. Airborne pollution is recognised by the medical fraternity as one of the leading causes of respiratory illnesses and diseases.

Let us take a closer look at two other areas: first is Domestic hazardous waste also described as household chemicals and other substances for which the home owner no longer has a use and a sometimes irresponsible attitude regarding disposal.

Items bought for home health care such as medical prescriptions filled but not entirely used; and personal care (deodorants, hair care, partially used cosmetics and nail polish removers). These products contain many of the same dangerous characteristics as fully regulated industrial hazardous waste due to their potential for reactivity, ignitability, corrosivity, toxicity, or persistence.

Plastics, as an example, will remain in the environment for many generations long after its original use. The list of household products include drains and floor cleaners, oil based paint, motor oil, radiator coolant, brake fluids and fuel, poisons, pesticides, herbicides and rodenticides, fluorescent lamps, lamp ballasts (a fixture that emits ultraviolet light used by banks and retailers as a method of verifying currency authentication, or infrared heat radiation, sometimes used for medical or cosmetic treatment), smoke detectors, some medical waste, and consumer electronics (such as televisions, computers, and cell phones). I would suggest that you take a closer look at the labels before your next purchase, because somehow or the other, they all end up in the same garbage bin.

The second area is in the management of diagnostic nuclear medical waste. This includes a number of short-lived gamma emitters (like medical and dental x-ray), which allows scanning procedures facilitating rapid collection, but keeps total patient radiation exposure low. Many of these products can be disposed of by leaving it to decay in a controlled environment for stipulated periods before disposal as waste in an approved site. Additionally, there are other products used in nuclear medicine which eventually are classified as waste, with product half-lives (the time a radioactive substance takes to lose half its radioactivity through decay) in parentheses include:

*Y-90 (Yttrium), used for treating lymphoma (half-life 2.7 days)

* I-131 (Iodine-131), used for thyroid function tests and for treating thyroid cancer (half-life 8.0 days)

*Sr-89 (Strontium), used for treating bone cancer, intravenous injection (half-life 52 days)

*Ir-192 (Iridium), used for brachytherapy (half-life 74 days)

* Co-60 (Cobalt), used for brachytherapy and external radiotherapy (half-life 5.3 years)

* Cs-137(Cesium), used for brachytherapy, external radiotherapy (half-life 30 years)

The sentiment presented here is not the negative aspects or the possible danger represented by the use of these product, but the fact that they there are extremely beneficial to man.

While these products represent accepted methods of providing valuable medical treatment, it is important to note that they are subject to similar stringent disposal regulations. It is therefore incumbent that these disposal regulations be followed and adhered to regardless of the developmental achievements of a country.

Two years ago my Editor presented me with a challenge: present material that stirs the awareness of the reader to be prepared, effectively respond when necessary, promote mitigation, accept environmental responsibilities, and encourage a renewed recognition that it was everyone’s responsibility to continually contribute to protect their environment.

However, as we prepare this series, some evidence suggests that the non-governmental environmental organisations, and this government’s environmental regulatory and managerial institutions established to manage this issue, are faced with the same glaring attitudes of disregard for protecting our environment, as individually exhibited by some towards preparing for the effects from the impact of a natural hazard.

How many times have you seen abandoned rusting vehicles leaking fluids dotting the countryside? Plastic cups, cans, bottles, fast food product containers either thrown through vehicle windows, left on a beach, floating out to sea, or littering a cane field? Once? Twice? Three times? Have you lost count or is it now just expected to be part of the landscape?

In February 2002, the US Environmental Protection Agency signed a Record of Decision to conduct the long-term cleanup of a 40-mile portion of the site in the upper Hudson River. The decision called for the dredging of 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment to remove an estimated 150,000 pounds of PCBs at an estimated cost of US$500 million.

There are many proven methods that are available to a society for managing waste: recycling, neutralization, incineration, correct landfill use, prompt decontamination and cleaning of waste spill sites. While recognising that house hold waste falls into many categories, unless these and other approved disposal methods are practiced by all, this country, and many others in the region, will face a financial recovery cost that will take generations to pay off and a sociological hurdle that may be extremely difficult to clear.

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