Lifestyle the issue; not Cahill
Since Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley brought the “Cahill project” to the spotlight on the floor of Parliament during the Budget Debate some two months ago, there has been much reaction, anger, disgust, defence and offence by the Government, stakeholders, Cahill, interest groups and the public.
In this whole debate, while Cahill has repeatedly failed to justify the pros of the proposed project, any required expertise on its part or even to endear itself to the hearts of Barbadians, my concern lies less with it.
Several columns ago, I gave my opinion on waste management in Barbados and referenced what I observed in one United States city and state, and suggested that we needed to give serious thought to a comprehensive waste management system that would have reuse and recycling at its core, but would shift more responsibility to households and businesses, and create a collective approach to managing a growing challenge for developing nations.
Waste management and its challenges are by no means peculiar to Barbados, but rather is a known issue and challenge for small countries, especially those categorized as small island developing states. This matter has had the attention and focus of international agencies like the United Nations for decades and was even given prominence on the agenda of the UN Conference hosted here back in 1994 and several since that time.
In my mind this proposed project raises the following:
1. The apparent of lack of logical progression from landfill to plasma gasification;
2. The costs (which appear to be a moving target) that could otherwise fund more appropriate steps to a full waste management solution;
3. Our system of governance and lack of clear development plans, as I addressed in my last column.
In my research thus far, it is suggested that there is a waste hierarchy that identifies programme priorities for waste management processes based on sustainability. Sustainable waste management cannot be achieved through technical end-of-pie solutions, and there has to be an integrated approach. The hierarchy states prevention, minimization, reuse and recycling as the top priorities, before energy recovery and final disposal of remnants.
While prevention and minimization can take time, it is worthy of note that they are ultimately rooted in our lifestyle choices and behaviours, and therefore could be easier to fix than imagined with the right level of involvement from the public.
Reuse and recycling through sorting at source is where I believe we still have numerous opportunities. Our lack of emphasis on these two areas has and continues to lead to rapid expiration of our landfill space and possibly increased import bills where we import items that could be produced, manufactured or renewed through a comprehensive programme.
Our challenges are not just in these areas, but also extend to the disposal of medical waste, industrial waste and even the management of our cemeteries whose space also appears to be running out. Medical waste can be highly contaminated, industrial waste can be hazardous, and the appearance of holes across our cemeteries filled with bones, clothing and casket pieces can be unhealthy and unsightly.
What is our plan? Will plasma gasification address all of these problem areas? I say no; and it has nothing to do with if the plasma plant is good technology or not.
It is simply a question of if it best suits our needs and the waste management areas that require our urgent attention at this time. These decisions impact our environment and our health, many effects sometimes not visible or quantifiable until the future.
From a sustainability standpoint, and giving full consideration to the price point of construction, can our island generate enough input for the plant, and what is the ultimate benefit in terms of energy output? This now creates a direct link between waste and energy at some point along the continuum that now dictates a energy plan, and we see further why research speaks to integration of approaches and processes.
It seems that one of the major issues with our waste management is our very own development. Through development more and more responsibility for waste management, especially prevention, minimization and reuse has been moved from the household to Government. Some shift back is required for true sustainability in this area.
Waste management cannot be effective without direct involvement by households, and this involvement cannot be through a solid waste tax or levy only, if at all.
So in our circumstance, Cahill is not the issue, and neither is plasma gasification. The issue is our lifestyle, our approach to waste and ultimately our governance. Governance in this context refers to the priorities and focus on waste management.
Our sanitation is under-funded and under-resourced. Should we not use the funds allocation to this waste to energy project to perfect our sanitation service, fix our other disposal issues as I highlighted and then fund our waste management along the continuum to waste to energy facilities?
The Auditor-General has highlighted issues surrounding several PPP projects in the past, and maybe what is also required is more of a robust system to their assessment and approval. These are not risks which we can take as a small island developing state.
It appears as though we have started at the end in this case, when the beginning and middle sections would have provided a much needed foundation. We have scarce resources that must be deployed to further fund our development in logical and economical ways.
Let us not make two costly errors in relation to our waste management –– first, Greenland; and, second, this “Cahill project”.
(David Simpson is managing director of Prestige Accounting Inc.)