“Jamaica’s beauty is our duty”
In March 2015, a massive fire burned at the Riverton City municipal solid waste dump on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica. The conflagration raged on for two weeks causing schools, businesses, and other services to shut down or close early because of the poor air quality caused by noxious emissions from the burning of tires and other toxic refuse. The dump fire covered almost 90 acres and cost in excess of $200 million to finally bring under control. And this was not the first time that the Riverton dump went up in flames.
In fact, fires had been a recurring problem for almost a dozen years before this last blaze brought so much cost and damage to the people of Jamaica. In 2012 another fire at Riverton lasted for six days, while the smoke abatement process lasted seventeen. There was yet another fire in 2014. All of these dump fires poured cancer-causing chemicals into the atmosphere, posing a grave health risk to the citizenry of the country and the tourists who visit it.
The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) is an agency of the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, responsible for the collection, storage, and disposal of solid waste in Jamaica. It was established in 2002 under the National Solid Waste Management Act of 2001. Its new Interim Executive Director is Colonel David Pryce who, in the wake of the latest Riverton fire, was called to duty from the Jamaican Defense Force when the NSWMA’s Board of Directors decided not to renew the contract of its Executive Director, Jennifer Edwards, who had been at the helm for the past eight years.
Pryce was drafted for his new position at the NSWMA because of his management skills; he had to learn about garbage on the job. In that regard, he gives credit to the 2,500 “dedicated workers and employees of the Authority who have not been frugal in their sharing of information and were quick to teach me the ins and outs of the sector,” he says. “I can’t boast about being a subject matter expert, but I am much further along the scale of knowledge about waste management than I was.” In fact, Pryce has brought himself quickly up to speed and can succinctly lay out the responsibilities of the agency he is charged with leading, and whose loss of public trust he is determined to reverse.
“We are responsible to take all steps necessary for the effective management of solid waste in Jamaica and to safeguard public health,” he begins. “We also have the responsibility to ensure that the waste is collected, stored, transported, re-cycled, re-used, or disposed of in an environmentally sound manner and to promote safety standards in relation to such waste. The third responsibility we have is to promote public awareness of the importance of efficient solid waste management and to foster understanding of its importance to the conservation, protection, and proper use of the environment.”
While the NSWMA’s mandate is for the collection and disposal of domestic, public waste, Pryce explains that the Authority also has some degree of responsibility for commercial waste, as well. “Because this is a business opportunity,” he says, “there are private contractors with established contracts with individual commercial entities for the collection of their waste. We have regulatory responsibility where that is concerned. Our enforcement team will go and check on the commercial entities to see that they are disposing of their commercial waste in a proper manner, and, if not, we have the law to ticket or prosecute them.”
Pryce goes on to describe – with military precision – the Authority’s four sub-entities, which are geographically spread across the country: “There’s the Metropolitan Parks and Market Waste Management, Ltd.; that company has waste management responsibility for the parishes of St. Catherine, St. Thomas, Kingston, Clarendon, and St. Andrew. The next company is the Southern Parks and Market Waste Management, Ltd.; that company has solid waste management responsibility for Manchester, and St. Elizabeth. Then you have the Northeastern Parks and Market Waste Management, Ltd.; that has waste management responsibility for the parishes of Portland, St. Anne, and St. Mary. Finally, you have the Western Parks and Market Waste Management, Ltd.; and that company has waste management responsibility for the parishes of Hanover, Westmoreland, Trelawny, and St. James.”
Pryce also talks about some of the new initiatives the agency has taken in order to help control any future fires, especially at the Riverton facility, the largest municipal dump on the island. “We saw a critical need to establish a fire suppressant system at the largest disposal site that we have,” he says. “This suppressant system is comprehensive and it involves installing onsite water storage facilities. We have a 120,000 gallon capacity tank there, which takes its source of water from a nearby river. And that is available on the disposal site, itself. Water from the tank is pumped to hydrants, strategically placed, that will be able to service each cell of the disposal site. So, once there is a breakout of a fire on the site, the workers there are trained by our local fire department to be able to be first responders to that fire. So, we have that in place. We also have vent pipes that release the gases that come about from the interaction of different components of the garbage, which aids in preventing spontaneous combustion.”
Pryce adds that refuse is now better divided into separate cells that are now part of a rotation system; each one is covered when not in active use, “We open different cells at different times,” he says. And some new landfill equipment was also recently purchased. But the new Interim Director laments the lack of funding that the NSWMA sorely needs in order to truly transform itself into a 21st century institution. “You never get all the money that you want,” he says ruefully. “We’re funded from the central government and monies collected from property taxes. We also engage in commercial activities to generate some income for ourselves to augment the shortfall that we get from the central government.” That extra income comes from the “tipping” fees charged to commercial users of the agency’s waste processing facilities.
In a further attempt to maximize resources, Pryce says that the Authority is committed to the possibility of transferring some of its responsibilities over to private hands. “We are not averse to privatizing some aspects of what we do, if there are persons who are better-equipped to do it,” he admits. The NSWMA is also looking into “the whole business of converting trash to cash,” as Pryce puts it. Indeed, the central government is contemplating partnering with the private sector for a waste to energy conversion strategy that will reward investors while also serving as an affordable way to manage Jamaica’s municipal solid waste.
As Pryce continues to re-invent NSWMA’s operational structure, while also rebuilding its image, he is firm about hewing to the Authority’s core values. “We use the acronym ‘ATTIRE,’” he says. “We want our stakeholders to hold us Accountable. We believe in Teamwork. We also believe in Transparency, and Integrity is the bedrock of our organization. We believe in Respect, and we strive for Excellence. And that sums up what we are.”
While the NSWMA is searching for a new, permanent Executive Director, its Interim Director, Colonel Pryce issues his final marching orders, once again elucidating NSWMA’s core values: “This organization is motivated,” he declares. “This Authority is committed to what it has to do. We are committed to our mandate and that we do so clothed in ATTIRE. We are Accountable. We’ll be Transparent. We will ensure that whatever we do, we’ll do it with Teamwork. We will jealously guard our Integrity. And we’re committed to display and show Respect to each other, and to our stakeholders, and to those who would seek to criticize us, that we are committed to Excellence.” Yes sir!
AT A GLANCE
WHO: The National Solid Waste Management Authority
WHAT: A government agency responsible for the collection, storage, and disposal of solid waste in Jamaica
WHERE: Kingston, Jamaica
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