KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN
PORT MORESBY - Managing solid waste is one of the biggest problems in Port Moresby and it is strange that it receives so little attention compared to other urban management issues.
In fact, it could be said that the quality of waste management services is a good indicator of a city’s governance.
The yellow and green coloured 44-gallon drums placed along streets and in suburbs and markets have been bent and broken over time.
Truth be told, there are no suitable rubbish bins and public toilets in the city.
There is also no routine collection and disposal of rubbish.
Port Moresby’s long dry season intensifies the stench of human faeces and urine and the sour odour of heaps of rubbish.
For more than 20 years, I foraged Waigani swamp for supertala (fish) and wild ducks and have gradually witnessed dismantled car parts, tyres, containers, plastics and much more engulf my hunting ground.
Solid waste dumped into drains in the northern part of the city accumulates for months until finally the rains come and sweep it into the Waigani swamp. In the south the rains drive the waste into the sea.
The swamp has also served as landfill for many decades and is a seriously diminished natural asset.
Lately, during the rainy season, the floods – seeking new outlets – have reneged on their usual path and inundate the suburb of Morata. The swamp has said it’s had enough.
Many developing country cities manage to informally create recycling, reuse and repair systems which achieve recovery rates comparable to those in the West and at no cost to the formal waste management sector. But not so much in Port Moresby.
Although in our city, the poor scavenge the drains to collect cans and aluminium to sell perhaps saving the city as much 20% of its waste management budget and effectively subsidising the city.
There is a major opportunity for the city to build on these existing recycling systems, to increase further the existing recycling rates, to protect and develop people’s livelihoods, and to reduce still further the costs to the city of managing the remaining wastes.
This form of inclusion in solid waste management will show how spectacular results can be achieved where the involvement of the informal sector is promoted. Many developing country cities still have an active informal sector and micro-enterprise recycling, reuse and repair.
The formal and informal sectors need to work together, for the benefit of both. The priorities of good resource management can be expressed by the ‘3Rs’ – reduce, reuse, recycle; the last further split between dry recyclables and bio-solids or organic wastes.
Recycled materials can be extracted, recovered and returned to boost industrial value chains. The city can return nutrients to the soil by composting organic, plant and animal waste together with safely managed and treated human faeces. These are sources of key nutrients for the agricultural value chain and their proper utilisation is important to food security and sustainable development.
At present, primary collection is done by households themselves and left in iron trays on the roadside for weeks until authorised collectors’ trucks arrive to deliver what remain to the landfills at Baruni.
The three key elements that need to be addressed for an integrated solid waste management (ISWM) system to work well and sustainably are public health, environment and resource management.
Public health aims to maintain healthy conditions particularly through a good waste collection service. Environmental protection needs to occur throughout the waste chain, especially treatment and disposal. Resource management closes the loop by returning materials and nutrients for beneficial use through striving for high rates of recovery, reuse and recycling.
The great challenges to our community and our city in these areas are to provide spaces for people to contribute as users, providers and enablers, achieve cost-effective and affordable services and develop a foundation of sound institutions with workable policies.
The solid waste management challenge is one of the critical responsibilities of our city government. It needs to rise to the challenge as it continues to seek to provide a liveable city.