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Waste Management on Islands for Protecting Health & Ecosystems

Waste Management on Islands for Protecting Health & Ecosystems

Organized at 3 PM GMT on 9th December, 2015



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Ranjith Annepu moderated the panel

Madhumitha Rajendran performed research and put together this quick summary of the panel and some of her favourite quotes


CHRISTOPHER LUND, Brickner & Bratton (GBB) Inc

GBB has a comprehensive programme to manage solid waste management for the entire island of Guam- managing and revamping collection system, building a brand new landfill, closing dumps that had been there for 70 years.

Low lying islands are the most vulnerable to global climate change, and that was an important catalyst in the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris in 2015.

  • Differences in islands — low lying islands, high islands, volcanic islands — need different technical requirements and solutions.
  • Island communities have limited assets, resources and space for waste.
  • People in an islands are resourceful, self-sufficient, and resilient and understand sustainability. They know to work with limited resources on a long term basis, largely because of the remoteness.
  • Islanders are aware that a behavioral and educational change is needed in the community and also for tourists, by minimizing waste generated while on the island at hotels and resorts, to maintain a pristine place.
  • Climate change can be mitigated by taking the road to better management of solid wastes, and by reducing the detrimental impact to the environment.

In Guam, we have a system fully financed by revenue generated by operations. Sustainable and fundamental steps have been taken in collecting wastes, starting a sanitary landfill, and a recycling program to minimize the wastes being sent to the landfill.

  • Earlier in Guam, the dumps had storm water entering the waste dumps and carrying leachate into the rivers and reefs. Reefs are the livelihood for islanders, which became the catalyst to make changes in Guam, where islanders helped themselves to get the island back in order and managing wastes sustainably.
  • Elevation in ocean levels have detrimental effects on aquifers in low lying islands. As the sea level rises, sea water intrusion takes place in wells and aquifers. Guam is a high island and has uplifted reef systems on the northern end, which have 80% of the groundwater. As sea level rises, there will be salt water intrusion at the perimeter, and necessitates adjustments to the water supply system to counterbalance the effect.
  • When it comes to waste management for low lying islands, waste is not dumped in the center of the island, but on the edge of the island, close to sea water. As the water level rises, there are engineering challenges to safeguard waste from polluting the reef system.

Cost recovery mechanisms: setting an appropriate rate that people can manage with is important, with collection operators paying for disposal at the landfill.

  • Once the rate system has been established, we can go out to market a revenue bond, which will provide the capital for building a new landfill. It’s primarily revenue based and sustainable.
  • Current rate structure will take care of post closure care of dump and also future landfill expansion and closure of present operations like landfilling and recycling.
  • Quarter of population receiving service were not paying for it and resulted in a poor revenue collection programme. Money was not going into the solid waste management system. They were renting one truck for 150,000 people. The Government’s first priority is public health- hospitals, waste water, fire and rescue, police, etc. Solid waste was put off till the last. The court had to step in finally and handover the project to GBB and make sure the revenue wasn’t being siphoned off to other areas.

We need to start with the fundamentals- getting revenue to support the change to move forward with proper collection and waste minimization, along with behavioral and cultural change.

  • Shipping waste collection programme: unless the islands work together, it is very difficult to market recyclable material and reuse it. Islands are aware of the opportunity to work collectively. Once the programme has been initiated, and sufficient quantity of recyclable material has been generated, it can be shipped off the island to a market that can reuse or repurpose that material. A hub central island can collect waste from nearby islands, making it economically viable to get it off the island. A mixed waste processing facility on a ship can be go around, and bring recyclables to the port and nearby markets.
  • Multilayer plastics are the most difficult to recycling programmes as they have extra packaging films.


MICHAEL COWING, Resources & Waste Advisory Group (RWA)


For waste management on an island, there is no one solution fits all. What works in Singapore will not work in an island in the Caribbean Sea, because of lower levels of affordability and institutional capacity.

  • Islands are very diverse in nature. From a waste management perspective, we tailor a particular solution to the actual setting, strive for a pragmatic, robust and sustainable solution, and be very specific in our approach on islands.

Touristic islands can ill afford to badly manage their wastes, impacting on the very commodity they are very dependent upon.

  • Being geographically remote and having costs for import and export, the major challenge is that the economy centers on tourism.
  • Bad waste management is very bad for the economy and business, apart from public health.
  • It is logically an incentive for better management, but it does not reach the operational level, as it is constrained by resources, operational framework, and management supervision. The incentive is not translated into efficient waste management practices.
  • In East Caribbean, tourism is used to raise waste management awareness among populace, workforce, waste management sector and politicians. North America and Europe are more environmentally aware and used to higher standards. It is an opportunity to raise levels of service to commensurate with what people in North America and Europe are used to.

The main reason for waste management system failure is the lack of cost recovery, as there is no money in the system to reinvest in equipment.

  • Even if there are international donors, after 18 months, when there is no revenue or experience in terms of maintenance and repairs, things will break down quickly.
  • In East Caribbean, tourism is used as potential revenue source. For every tourist, 1.5 USD is charged on a ticket, specifically as environmental levy. Tourists were happy to pay with the knowledge that money was going directly to an environmental benefit. The negative aspect is poor political judgement resulting in money being spent on other areas. Tourism provides financial opportunities.
  • Cost recovery is a key component- 500 million USD for a series of 20 landfills, with no budget for capacity building, education, cost recovery. This pattern has repeated several times and resulted in failure.
  • In the Caribbean, engineering, public education and awareness aspects were carried out correctly. However cost recovery was not tackled politically. The Government bears all costs. When the economy of the Caribbean falls down, the Government is unable to make payments, and waste management service levels have fallen because of the inability to reinvest.

Politics on an island are very intimate, in comparison with North America and Europe. Politicians are closer to the people, and do not want to be seen making difficult and unpopular decisions. They dodge cost recovery, ruing the decision after a few years, when there is no money in the system to keep operating the system to desired standards.

  • Charging for waste management as a percentage of other utility costs has worked well in some islands. Then comes the problem of good governance, it is one thing to generate revenue, and another issue entirely to make sure that the revenue is managed properly. Transparency and accountability is important.
  • It is important to generate revenue and ensure that it is spent appropriately.

There is a pragmatic level of appreciation and understanding of impacts of bad waste management, on fishing communities, bad environmental governance, generally deforestation, and sedimentation impacts fishes.

  • Undoubtedly it’s an issue, but climate change at the moment is an abstract issue, while people are more readily relating to day to day impacts of bad waste management. More intelligent discussions can follow, once basis is put right there.
  • What resonates is if you have bad waste management, drains are choked with garbage and city has regular floods. People understand that bad waste management equals flooding and impacts their daily life. People also understand the level of bad waste management impacts on health.

Cost of projects in islands: waste management is a complicated and expensive chore undertaken in municipal or state level. On an island, added factors like physical isolation and the need for importing raw materials are additional costs.

  • There is a problem to access suitable land. In the East Caribbean, a series of landfills were not successful because they were imposing on an economy with inappropriate technology.

Wherever you are in the hierarchy, step-wise incremental improvements have to be made. Aide funded projects try to go from point zero to ten, from an open dumpsite to an engineered landfill or incinerator. All factors of sustainability have been overlooked when they make that leap- institutional capacity, public education, cost recovery, etc.

  • If there is a dumpsite, convert the same site to a landfill by reengineering and upgrading, without looking elsewhere for land, as it will take a long time.
  • Start with low cost technology. As you improve the revenue base, start upgrading progressively in an engineering perspective. Focusing purely on technology has resulted in the failure of international interventions, in projects completed within 18 months.

The money should be invested in basic factors of sustainability and not on expensive technology and equipment, which will not be maintained in the long run.

  • If there is funding for 100,000 USD, it is advisable to spend on capacity building, training and education, preparing the ground for involvement of private sector and the community, and not on equipment.
  • In low income countries, 50-60% of waste is organic in nature, which can be segregated and composted to make use of the bulk of the waste. It can be tied to the local agricultural community and waste can be used as a local resource. Getting recyclable waste to the market is difficult as it is marginally profitable and easy to lose money.
  • The starting point isn’t at the policy and planning level. Mobilizing the community and engaging the private sector and then meeting policy and decision makers halfway is a sound approach.

Find the big generators of plastic waste, encourage them to start acting responsibly, and this will not happen without coercion, education and publicity.

  • The big generators and distributors deal with environmental costs through good governance and stewardship. Start investing in programmes about recollecting waste, bringing back to depots, processing and exporting them using the same communication lines.Small impact will result in a bigger output.


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