Public Utilities Minister wants to turn trash into treasure

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Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales. –

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales is exploring avenues to manage waste in an environmentally friendly manner while at the same time creating a business model for the State to benefit financially.

Changing the culture of the way waste is managed is not impossible, he said, but the approach must be cost-effective and feasible, “because we have dwindling financial resources.

“Whatever approach we take, in my view, must not come at any significant cost. It must come with an approach that the State is going to earn money from the way in which Trinidad and Tobago manages its waste.”

He said internationally, waste attracts money.

“While there is an impact on the environment, watercourses, health of the country, etc, I am not prepared to move forward with this project unless there is a business plan that would ensure the State gets the possible revenue it can from a well-managed waste system.”

Gonzales was speaking to Newsday on Sunday in response to health concerns raised by people living near the Forres Park landfill in Claxton Bay.

Dry-season fires have begun to cause discomfort to them once more.

Gonzales said, at one of his first meetings with the recently installed Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL) board, chaired by Ronald Milford, he asked the directors to come up with a plan for the introduction of an engineered landfill system.

Milford, he said, “has been doing a lot of work with his board on an engineered landfill system which would see the decommissioning of the Beetham, Guanapo and Forres Park landfill system and move towards an engineered system.”

He said there are no quick or easy fixes to this situation, which requires a comprehensive overhaul.

Gonzales said a study done by the IDB, called the Establishment of an Integrated Sustainable Solid Waste Management for TT, has been receiving his attention.

He said some technical, financial, social, environmental and economic studies have already been done and a waste characterisation study has to be completed.

“All studies would have to be done, because you have to understand the volume of the waste you are creating in the country so you would know the size of the engineered landfill you are going to construct.”

He said about 80 per cent of TT’s waste is recyclable.

“Therefore the existing sites would be transfer sites where all the waste will go. From there, recyclable items will be taken out to be recycled.”

Items that cannot be recycled will go to the engineered landfill waste system to be further broken down before being released into the environment, in “a very environmentally sustainable and sound manner.

“This has been receiving my attention over the last month, because we cannot continue in the way we are managing our waste in TT. It is very hazardous to our health and our environment and our watercourses – both surface water and our underground aquifers”

He said it has proven to pose “some serious environmental health concerns to the people of TT and therefore I have mandated the board (SWMCOL) to examine what we have done so far towards moving to an engineered landfill system.

“We are looking at the studies that were completed and what has to be done within the near future, so we present to the Cabinet for approval how we are going to move forward with implementing this integrated waste management.”

In the meantime, he said, “There are no quick fixes.”

He used the beverage containers law to make the point that this does not address all the issues. He said the legislation would require a comprehensive culture change as the law is not enforceable.

“I am not sure if TT is at a stage where it is ready for that kind of transformation as yet.”

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