by Ginny Mckinney
Solid waste disposal and recycling are both problems in the Bahamian out islands.
In most cases the government has either farmed out trash collection to a local person or people just truck their own garbage to the landfill (dump, pit, whatever is being used) .
The landfill/dump is usually on Crown Land and run by the government. In most places they are still burning the accumulated garbage. Local administrations have been pushing to create landfills and transfer stations on Islands with fairly large populations, using a loan from the InterAmerican Development Bank, which was negotiated by the government over 10 years ago.
I have struggled for over 12 years to get recycling happening here in Nassau and in some of the Family Islands. Currently, we have an aluminum can recycling project called Cans for Kids. We collect cans through schools and businesses, densify and ship them. The proceeds go to the participating schools and youth groups.
Recyling plastic is something I've been investigating this last year. With new technologies coming onstream, coupled with the increase in price and decrease in availability of oil, recycling plastic is becoming more viable even for a small garbage generator like the Bahamas. Oddly, even though we look like an enormous source of plastic, we are comparatively small and cannot justify the price of some of these technologies.
Other stumbling blocks to recycling efforts in the Bahamas are as follows:
With no separation system in place (either curbside or central system), collection has always posed the biggest and most expensive problem. This is compounded by the high price of diesel/petrol and the high cost of labour in the Bahamas.
Exporting the baled material is also a problem as the shipping companies are not inclined to give any concessions if the recycling is a for-profit venture. Cans for Kids gets free shipping as long as we stay non-profit.
The cheapest part is the baling, though with the price of electricity that is growing too. Last but not least are the prices received for the recyclables. These markets fluctuate and can be affected greatly by the cleanliness of the baled material and the saturation of the market.
We are very stringent in our preparation of our shipments as any contamination (straws, plastic six pack holders, dirt, ferrous metal etc.) will impact the price we receive from our buyer. As to the state of the market when we send our material for sale, we cannot do anything about that but hope there is a scarcity of aluminium at that particular moment, which will mean a higher price for us.
The other material that I have been trying for eight years to get out of our landfills is garden waste (lawn and bush clippings etc.). My company (Wastenot Limited) offers a well-priced service but in the absence of a government mandate banning such waste from the landfill we have had little response.
This is of course a huge source of methane when it is buried at the landfill and undergoes anaerobic digestion to breakdown. But at the moment the government has no plans to address this problem. We have now started a composting operation in Nassau and are capturing green waste from Lyford Cay (a gated community of about 350 homes) and Atlantis. We are also processing shipping pallets at the landfill.
Though this government is beginning to look at alternative methods for dealing with garbage, it is going to take some time. Whatever it does, it has to repeat it at least five times on the main populated Family Islands. This is an expensive and hard to co-ordinate task, so it keeps get pushed onto the back burner.
Also compounding the situation are our social problems, which need a lot of attention right now. Kids having babies and assaulting each other in school, parents lacking parenting skills, lawlessness in all stratas of our society. This requires immediate attention from the current administration.
From my investigations and experiments I have concluded that a process called Thermal Conversion stands to serve the Bahamas best. This is not a burning but a heating process with a subsequent capturing of gases, which are then in turn used to drive a turbine to produce electricity. Reintroduction of the material a second time yields more gases and the resulting leftovers are an inert aggregate which can be used in block manufacturing or road building.
Capture of heat from the energy production can be used for desalination and/or chillers for food storage. With Thermal Conversion we view the garbage as a fuel, already bought and shipped in. The cost in monetary terms and in an increased carbon footprint trying to collect, separate, bale and ship again to a recycling destination is much greater than converting it to energy right here in the Islands. Smaller units for the out islands will not generate any profit but will meet some of the energy needs and take care of the garbage at the same time.
So where does that leave volunteer efforts on the family islands now? The first problem is collecting the litter that creates such an eyesore for resident and visitor alike. The second is how is the plastic to be dealt with at the disposal site once it actually gets there? And how much money are volunteers willing to raise/invest to help solve the problem?
If interested persons can give me an outline of what is in place and what kind of solution they can execute, I am more than happy to give my thoughts, info and contacts to assist you. Keep the passion, don't get discouraged.