SWMCOL: We need to change mindset, cut waste by half

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Men rummage through garbage along Kangawood Road, also known as Dump Road, that leads to the Forres Park Landfill, on June 30, 2021. File photo/Angelo Marcelle –

A NEW landfill/dump proposed for Forres Park will not be able to process present levels of waste produced in Trinidad and Tobago, but only half this amount, warned Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL) chairman Ronald Milford on Thursday.

He was talking at a virtual sitting on the theme of an inquiry into the impact of landfills on the environment held by the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Land and Physical Infrastructure chaired by Deoroop Teemal.

Member Muhammed Ibrahim asked about the state of landfills, prompting Milford’s response. Reflecting on TT’s 60 years of independence, Milford said, “We have not done a very good job as to how we manage waste. Smaller economies right in our region are doing a far better job. It is long overdue that we address that situation.”

Milford said all TT’s landfill were now full.

“We have no capacity. We are over our capacity at all of our landfills under our management.”

He said a 2010 study had found the amount of waste produced in TT was 700,000 tonnes each year.

“The capacity of the landfills when they were first envisioned is about 6.7 million tonnes. Given the calculations from 2010-2022, which is 12 years, we are at about 8.4 million tonnes.”

He reiterated that all SWMCOL’s landfills were now over capacity and said the Guanapo landfill was “bursting at the seams.”

“It is a major issue for us. If for example there is a fire there, getting to the fire in some areas is proving to be very, very difficult.

“Beetham, as you know, started as a dump, La Basse, and that too is way past its lifespan.

“As a country we need to act swiftly to address this situation and move to the establishment of an engineered landfill at Forres Park.”

Milford also hoped people could start to see value in waste items.

“That’s why SWMCOL is engaging now in an expansive recycling programme.”

He said on Wednesday three private companies had held a meeting on recycling plastic bottles.

“The Beverage Container Bill, or as we like to call i,t the Recycling Bill, we’ve done a lot of re-work on that bill, together with our line ministry, and we expect that bill will come to Parliament this year.

“We have a lot of challenges but all is not lost for us. We see there is a lot of opportunity, both on the revenue side for SWMCOL as well as how we treat with waste today.”

Milford called for a halving of the country’s waste, including increasing recycling waste at source.

“The only way the (Forres Park) engineered landfill could work is if we reduce waste coming in to our landfills by 50 per cent.”

He said the Beverage Container Bill was one measure to increase recycling.

“We need to change the mindset and our behaviours here in TT.”

Milford saw items to be recycled instead of dumped as plastics, tyres, e-waste and bush cuttings. This would help the engineered landfill to work.

Ministry of Public Utilities permanent secretary Nicolette Duke reckoned that on top of citizens changing their behaviour, some waste should be recovered to be used as feedstock for other things.

Environment Management Authority (EMA) technical services manager Wayne Rajkumar said the EMA was still considering SWMCOL’s application for a new Forres Park landfill.

Replying to Teemal, Rajkumar said existing landfills (such as at Beetham) would be decommissioned when a new engineered landfill is set up at Forres Park.

Milford said a certificate of environment clearance (CEC) application was still before the EMA, but the Forres Park engineered landfill project could be well advanced by 2025.

SWMCOL CEO Kelvin Thompson said in phase 4 of this five-stage project, the existing landfills would be decommissioned. He said a study had found that 70-78 per cent of waste sent to SWMCOL’s landfills was in fact recyclable.

Milford said SWMCOL last year signed an MOU with National Gas Company (NGC) and University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) on a study on possibly recovering gas from landfills.

“The pre-feasibility study has been completed. It started in January and was completed in March of this year.

“Now we are on to the second phase. which is to figure out how much gas we have available at our dumps, as well as (consider) if the gas is there, is it feasible to take it out and commercialise it?”

Thompson said SWMCOL’s mascot, Charlie, was being promoted in traditional and online media and via visits to schools.

Milford attributed a recent fire at the Beetham landfill to a faecal pond catching alight due to unauthorised substances dumped into it by errant contractors.

“Waste oil ended up there and that caused a major problem for us.”

He thanked the Fire Services, Ministry of Works and Transport, and WASA for their assistance against the fire. He said over five-six days fires broke out in two other places in the landfill.

“To make matters worse, at that time we had Sahara dust, so the overall air quality in Port of Spain was impacted.”