COLUMN – Dealing with garbage at home

EMERGENCY911 block-1Any industrial action –– at either local or national level –– will automatically affect the public. An industrial action occurring within the airline industry immediately affects the passenger. When public transportation (by bus or train) comes to a standstill, the impact is immediately felt in any household.

The same can also be said for any industrial action that affects critical Public Service sectors. One such service is sanitation.

When industrial action affects the collection of garbage, the task of efficiently continuing the maintenance of overall public health becomes an even higher priority to public health emergency planners and department managers.

Any community’s garbage left uncollected for long periods becomes a magnet to rodents and other vermin. Uncollected garbage becomes a delight for vermin that eagerly become very willing recipients of this unexpected bounty. Their activity during industrial action can influence the delicate balance of public health programmes.

What must be understood during such a situation is that while industrial action is seen as justified by the parties initiating such, the residents who have no role in the issue must still continue with their daily routine.

A typical family’s daily routine includes going to work, preparing children for school each day, household cleaning and, yes, taking out the garbage! The last is a routine practice by every household, conducted with the expectation the stuff will be collected before the end of the day.

The problem worsens when thew garbage is not collected the next day, and the next collection date cannot be confirmed.

When this type of problem occurs, most households are hopeful the differences between the parties involved will be quickly resolved, and that life will return to normal. However, most industrial actions where a work stoppage occurs –– and depending on what work type or function has been halted –– will precipitate a ripple effect that cuts across all elements of a society. This ripple effect then becomes the concern of emergency planners, as the safety and health of a community may be jeopardized if the action becomes prolonged.

Under these circumstances, while the Government and the parties involved try to reach an amicable solution to the problem, the uninvolved members of the same society maintain their regular routine with sometimes devastating results. What started out as one day of missed collection, now becomes seven days without collection; with no resolution reached, that seven days becomes 14; and with each missed day, the quantity of waste multiplies, as does the risk of a public health outbreak of a related disease.

With rainfall, the possibility of groundwater contamination also becomes an additional factor that must also be considered. Garbage-contaminated water run-off will probably become a major concern for the agricultural sector, if the multiplying piles of uncollected waste becomes drenched in a heavy rainfall.

Heavy rain will in most cases precipitate flash flooding, which will most likely move and scatter the piles of accumulated debris in every direction. One such direction which garbage-laden floodwaters will most likely take will be to agricultural sites.

Flash flooding, with all its piles of uncollected garbage in flood-prone areas, will complicate any response for public health responders. This is due to the fact these responders must not only deal with the effects of the flood damage, but the hidden dangers that rain-soaked garbage heaps will now create for overall public health management.

However, contamination of the potable water supply will not be a problem, as long as the comprehensive safety-monitoring programme established to secure and maintain water quality remains in place.

The effects of garbage-laden flash flooding need not be an additional challenge for community residents already struck by industrial action, as there are steps which may be taken before such an event –– steps that can also aid in the maintenance of good public health while a resolution is sought.

First, it is not recommended that as an alternative to garbage collection homeowners should resort to burning of waste on their properties. It is illegal, and if the blaze should get out of control, it is quite possible the end result may be the dreaded house fire.

This is not a new suggestion, as it has long been promoted that residents in all communities need to sort household waste before putting garbage out for collection. Household garbage is usually composed of vegetable matter, cooking waste and other related kitchen waste items. Household garbage also comprises plastics, broken glass, aluminium cans, newspapers and magazines. In fact, paper products sometimes account for more than 30 per cent of all household waste.

The reason for the unpleasant odours may be attributed to meat remains and other kitchen waste. Add the now spoiled and decomposing items deemed as “last week’s leftovers”, and soiled pampers and other infant waste, and the reasoning for the unpleasant odours will quickly be confirmed.

Granted, no family want to accumulate garbage in their yards; hence the reasoning behind residential collection on specific days. However, when that collection process is disrupted, it is incumbent on the homeowner to institute what may be termed as a “homeowner’s contingency plan” for storing household waste for short-term situations.

One part of the plan should be the sorting of the waste. In this case, kitchen waste, other decomposing items and soiled Pampers need to be separated from all other items and treated as a “first priority”. Understanding that these items also contribute to the sometimes unpleasant odours, placing these items in an airtight container will assist in containing the smell, as well as keep it out of the reach of rats and other vermin.

Secondly, it is far easier to bundle paper in to neat piles for temporary storage than to arbitrarily add it to the ever-increasing pile by the roadside. Coverless bottles and other plastic containers, as well as aluminium cans, may be stored away –– from the effects of rainfall. Unless you are a fan of mosquitoes, this will therefore be the best temporary recourse for these items.

On the other hand, there may be recycling centres that will still be operating –– regardless of the industrial impasse –– that will gladly take the items from you.

Every home will accumulate waste –– with or without industrial action. The issue here is how to manage that waste until such time as the collection service is restarted. Even if the service restarts within a short period, the service’s first priority will the removal of the accumulated waste now littering the streets and blocking pedestrian walkways –– as a public health
management policy.

From a public safety perspective, it is important residents recognize that the clearing and cleaning of city and residential streets will take higher public health priority over immediately restarting residential collection, even though there be piles in the community. Any community willing to contain its individual household waste for short periods, rather than indiscriminately dump its waste on the streets, will most likely contribute to mitigating any possible public health disease outbreak.

Once the odours can be managed and contained, the temporary storage inconvenience will be a much cheaper price
to pay than to have a major epidemic to worry about.


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