Challenge of managing waste

Editorial, Normal

The National – Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One word that can be a full sentence or a description, but both of which make you squirm.
Yet, however uncomfortable we are with rubbish or waste, we must live with it. It is the first thing humans produce, long before they are able to utter a legible word.
From eating to exploding a nuclear device, waste is a natural by-product of human activity.
Today, managing waste, as with all other human activity, is becoming a problem. 
The comments by Robin Tuna, managing director of Hides Waste Management Ltd, are a timely call to action.
He reckons that there is no accurate data on how many kilometric tonnes of waste is generated annually and how much of this is disposed off in landfills, incinerated or recycled. Tuna is calling on government to change the legislation governing waste management because existing regulations would appear to be restrictive or does not cater for changing circumstances.
Disposal of rubbish or waste requires very stringent measures because of the unhealthy nature of waste.
Some are even more problematic because they are toxic in nature or contain sharp and dangerous particles or organisms that are dangerous.
The casual and uncaring manner with which ordinary Papua New Guineans approach waste disposal adds to the need to increase awareness of waste management.
One only needs to walk to the middle of Boroko, Mt Hagen city or Lae’s Toptown to prove how casual we are about waste disposal.
Littering has now turned into dumping and that is being done in the middle of our towns and cities.
If such casual approaches were taken when disposing of toxic and dangerous medicines and medical implements such as used needles or when handling toxic and radioactive materials then there will be plenty of trouble ahead.
It is more than just littering, although littering adds to the unsightly and unhealthy conditions of a community.
Waste is smelly. It is unsightly. It gathers germs and unhealthy organisms that can cause illness and harm. Some are directly harmful such as with toxic waste or sharp metals and glass implements.
There are different categories of rubbish and it is best that the community is aware of it. There are some that are bio-degradable, that is they can easily break down naturally and dissolve into the ground. Others take longer or forever and are referred to as non-biodegradable.
There are those rubbish which can be recycled. There are others which cannot be recycled.  There is clinical medical waste; there are industrial wastes, household wastes, radioactive wastes and refuse or sewerage wastes.
Disposal of each of these categories of waste must have their own approved and regulated methods of disposal.
The health and safety of a community depends on it.
Even a simple and, perhaps, best known waste disposal system as a dump or tip must adhere to certain basic guidelines.
The tip should be downwind from human habitation so that the smells from the dump does not pollute nearby communities.
The tip should not be too close to rivers or creeks or be in a place where rain can wash solid waste or toxic products into waterways which might be used by humans for washing or drinking.
Waste ought not to be placed close to the surface or, if they are, they ought to be regularly covered to stop soaking or run offs during rain.
Dumps should not be placed near schools or communities and should be placed in hollow depressions or dug up areas so that earth moving equipment can quickly cover the area. For this purpose the surrounding area should not be rock so that soil can be dug to cover the pit.
In many communities and even households there are colour coded rubbish bags and drums. There are those that indicate to the disposal teams that they are recyclable items and there are those that indicate otherwise.
Likewise, colour codes and easily identifiable universal symbols such as the nuclear system indicate radioactive and the skull to indicate dangerous waste.
Non-biodegradable substances such as plastic bags have become obsolete or are banned in many localities. Why does PNG need to continue with them when it is the land of some of the most beautiful bilums and hand-woven baskets.
Parliament did pass a law to ban plastic shopping bags some years back but the bags are still in use today.
Quite aside from them being a problem to dispose off, plastic bags have also become life-threatening for fish and other marine life in PNG.