Waste worse than corruption: Raffique Shah points out cost of our nasty ways

EPL Properties Ltd

A recent World Bank report ranked Trinidad and Tobago as the country that generates the most “municipal solid waste”, on a per capita basis, in the world.

Every man, woman and child in this country, on average, every day, generates—according to the World Bank data—a mind-boggling 14.4 kilograms of garbage.

Photo: Garbage being dumped at a landfill. (Courtesy St Louis County)
Photo: Garbage being dumped at a landfill.
(Courtesy St Louis County)

The world average is 1.2 kilos.

Waste in this context includes garbage from households, commercial and industrial businesses, agricultural waste and sewage sludge.

The report notes: “A lack of recycling facilities has contributed to the country’s dire waste management issues… One of the most pressing environmental concerns on the islands is the pervasiveness of littering…”

The other notable waste generators were, in order, Kuwait (5.7 kilos), Antigua (5.4) and Guyana (5.3).

We are so far ahead of the rest of the world in being nasty and doing nothing to change our nastiness—and that without shame—it’s, well, shameful.

We are so comfortable as leaders of the “global garbage stakes” that we do not even bother to discuss it or do anything to reverse it. Not an editorial comment, not a letter to the editor, not even a minister expressing concern.

Photo: Time to Chase Charlie Away again.
Photo: Time to Chase Charlie Away again.

You understand where we reach? Where we have been for so long that we take it for granted and we revel in waste, wastage and wasteful ways.

I know many readers will accuse me of not having pride in my country—and maybe even being unpatriotic—when I point out that the report, which is specific to municipal solid waste, hardly touches the real levels of waste in this country.

We waste water, we waste electricity, we waste gasoline and diesel because we get them at highly subsidised prices.

Unusual weather patterns have negatively impacted rainfall, hence WASA’s reservoirs-levels, over the past two years. So you’d think that consumers and the utility will make concerted efforts to conserve water.

WASA could not be bothered with the many major leaks in their system that are not just wasting expensively-treated water, but threatening the stability of roads and people’s properties.

Photo: Water gone. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Water gone.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

And the natives? They remain uncaring, leaving their taps running as they hose down their vehicles or yards and chat with their neighbours; each one trying to out-waste the other.

Because electricity is cheap, lights and appliances are permanently left on, so much so that a common refrain in most households is: Who turned off the television?!

Ah lie?

Gas and diesel are cheap to the extent that we have more vehicles than people—well, almost. And few people walk to their neighbourhood parlours or shops to buy anything. They must drive.

Walking is the most natural and effective, and least costly exercise. But try explaining that to the “yuppies” who drive to check friends two houses away, but then waste money to work out in their tights in air-conditioned gyms.

Photo: Maybe we should exercise more. (Courtesy Healthy Living, Healthy Lifting)
Photo: Maybe we should exercise more.
(Courtesy Healthy Living, Healthy Lifting)

We waste food, even as we complain about high food prices.

Recently, someone in officialdom noted that approximately 40 percent of schoolchildren who benefit from the TT$250 million-a-year School Nutrition Programme either dump or partially eat the 150,000 or so meals a day that are supplied.

One person said that the recipients eat the meat and dispose of the vegetables. They want the caterers to supply them with chicken-n-chips or pizzas!

The parents or guardians are partly to blame for this unforgivable travesty: you never waste food.

I know I am talking of another time, another generation. But my children, when they were of school-age, heard all about the villages in famine-hit countries in Africa and Asia that could be fed on what they were about to discard; and how many children were dying because they could not get a morsel of food.

Many parents of that era were conscious of just how important food was, and taught their children to never ever waste it.

Photo: School children waste food in Los Angeles. (Copyright LA Times)
Photo: School children waste food in Los Angeles.
(Copyright LA Times)

The wasteful habits I have outlined here—and there are others I do not have the space to address—were inculcated in their homes, which is at the core of our irresponsible behaviours.

I argue that waste is more costly to the nation than corruption because the corrupt are a handful in the society. And even if they steal big-time, the loss to the society, quantified in dollars, will be far less than what most of us waste every living day.

Our world-leader role in municipal waste, in littering—has a litter warden ever charged anyone with littering?—in clogging waterways with plastic and discarded appliances, in keeping dogs that use the streets as open latrines, tells a sorry story about governments that talk recycling but do nothing. And a sorrier story of a people who are just plain nasty.

Those offended by my spelling out these unsavoury traits that leave us trapped in our Third World pit might as well save your indignation.

Photo: A homeowner wastes water. (Courtesy isustainableearth)
Photo: A homeowner wastes water.
(Courtesy isustainableearth)

I never apologise for telling the truth.


Editor’s Note: This column was written before the World Report figure on wastage was questioned for its accuracy. Regardless of what the correct figure turns out to be, Raffique Shah maintains that his point about wastage stands.

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About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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  1. I live this article. it speaks the truth of how we trinis abuse everything without consideration for ourselves and others in the long term.

    A country such as ours more strides should have been made towards conservation by embracing recycling.

    we too harden, we don’t care as long as it appears not to affect our little piece of the pie. But little do we know.

  2. Warning: Undefined variable $userid in /www/wired868_759/public/wp-content/plugins/user-photo/user-photo.php on line 114

    All water Bottles have RECYCLE LOGOS; Yet they are throw in with regular Garbage….

  3. Waste and corruption go hand in hand!. Waste happens when politicians feel the $ they are spending comes from their pockets and not the country’s purse…corruption is the enriching of individuals who find ways and means to rip the country off whether through wastage, pilfering, kick backs through the awarding of contracts and other means of making themselves and their minions rich!!!! At the same time, both refer to the use of public offive for private gain….both have to do with a word called ACCOUNTABILITY, which is absent in T&T….(this was a free class session) thank you

  4. Why quibble and carp about just how many pounds of garbage we produce per capita per day? The point is that, whatever the figure in kilos or in pounds, it’s way too much and that’s what Raf is trying, inter alia, to get us all to see and do something about.

    We don’t have to agree that it’s worse than corruption, just that it’s bad and has to be dealt with.

  5. Alana, Raffique said the figure he gave was corrected after he wrote. So he wanted me to make a point of that but to say he stood by the spirit of the column.
    Since it clearly said in the opening paragraphs where he got the figure from, I thought that was enough. But I’ve added an editor’s note at the bottom now as well.

  6. Nonsense in my books. IMO waste is inevitable sometimes but corruption breeds greater & greater greed! Corruption without punishment now seems like an entitlement & way of doing business!

  7. Raffique said that he accepted the figure from the World Bank and published in the Newsday and isn’t sure of what the accurate figure would be.
    But his point about waste stands.

  8. Lasana, btw, what happened to Della-Marie, the TT Junior Chess star, did she make a full recovery?

  9. I wouldn’t say that one is worse than the other. Both are pretty debilitating to the country’s development. Corruption moreso, because, physical garbage is just a symptom of the political garbage that people seem at ease with for so long. And the idea that we still strugggle officially with a concept like recycling when lots of poorer countries around the world are addressing it is, well, a mess in the extreme. World Bank aside, he has a point.

  10. The article has some salient points. However, the ‘fact’ about T&T being the ‘dirtiest’ place on earth was wrong, and was subsequently corrected by the International Organisation, unfortunately the correction did not attract the level of attention that it should have.

    Secondly, in these perilous times, wastage in terms of taxpayers money should be examined. Petrotrin is before the Joint Select Committee and has reported wastage of over US 5 billions dollars in failed projects. Also a wage bill of 1.5 billion dollars – which is ridiculous!

    Petrotrin is the feeding trough of the OWTU – which to me is the sabotage and protesting arm of the PNM. Yet due to political biasness, this wastage and corruption at Petrotrin is not gaining the kind of exposure it deserves, as it all happened under the last PNM administration.

    There are many unsubstantiated comments about the UNC – though some may be true – but those comments were not proven, yet here is evidence of PNM failure and yet….

    All State enterprises need to ‘clean up’ and persons – regardless of political persuasion – should be held accountable for their actions or omissions.

    This is type of wastage I would really like to see stopped.

  11. Can’t get past the first sentence. A handful? That’s laughable. Corruption is engrained in our way of life in this country and therefore takes many forms. One doesn’t have to be in a position of power to be corrupt either.

  12. Raf needs to do a bit more research though. Apparently that figure quoted by the world Bank is incorrect and local authorities and a couple of ministers did make a statement on it. (Plus I was publicly corrected on that figure at a local government consultation). So we actually aren’t the biggest producers of trash per capita. However, we can stand to do a lot better and way more, concerning our trash habits and carbon footprint. I also found his op ed today to be a tad bit bitter towards the younger generation but I’ve grown accustomed to that from folks in his age demographic. *shrug*

    • Well, he said he relied on the World Bank for that. But he stands by belief that waste is a huge issue.

    • Lasana Liburd The original story made headline news and editorials; the correction went unnoticed. But even making allowances for wrong facts the essence of his argument has nothing to do with third world it has to do with bureaucracies. Every politicians in the U.S. runs on the promise of eliminating waste and fraud.

    • I love my country. I agree one hundred percent with Mr Shah , Trinidadians are a nasty bunch. what I like even more is how we can justify everthing wrong. with all the oil money, why no recycling plant, it is what we give priority to. we are a nation of people who likes to be policed to do the right thing. the government has some blame , but we the people have to take some blame also. remember the campaign about charlie, where bins were placed strategically to dispose of our garbage. did we utilize them. I see at UWI young people eat in the cafeteria and leave the boxes on thetables, mind you there are bins, you know why, thye say the cleaners are being paid to do ajob, so leave it for them. All around the country empty lots are dumped garbage (businessmen and residents) . where I live there is abusiness man, who dumps his garbage not infront his home , but on the side which stays for weeks sometime before it is taken up .Then there are residents who clean their yard and throw their garbage over the wall in empty porperties (I agree with governments plan to charge those with land thast has overgrown grass or old buildings and derelict vehiicles piled up causing rats a snake infestation) Another issue is have you been to a function (wedding, family gathering, children;s party etc) and see parent fill a plate of food for a 4-8 yr old ) youknow that child is not eating that much, after 5min he/she wants no more, so you dump it in the garbage, you do the same thing with drinks/beverages. Nevertheless, everyyear we are asked to clean up beaches and I refuse to volunteer since tons are picked up , which means we are doing the same thing over an over. If going to beach why not take garbage bags to dispose of our garbage,the infamous ‘plastic bottles’ all over T&T (floating down the rivers and seas, especially during floods, which clog up water holes, but you know what its’ the government fault. T&T is a consumer country in every way, we never had to fight for anything and the current generation is about more, more , more, but they weren’t born that way. our generation failed to train them. If they dont do it at home, why would they do it outside. More than that why do we want to compare Ist World and Third world. We simply nasty. Admit it, we travel and do the right thing, so why the police/littter wardens must be on us to do the right things at home ,because like corruption, it has become the norm. Sometimes I am left to wonder where are we heading. The resource curse ‘oil’ hasbeen blamed for so much negatives in the country, but be reminded, God has blessed us with oil, but its Man;s use or lack thereof of it such as squandermania and lack of accountbaility and transparency that has flowed downwards to the people, that greed, corruption and wastage at all levels have brought us to this juncture that we are bestowed with the crown as the NO#1 country of municipal waste ( in know it was an error) but what difference does it make . T&T in the top 10 of everthign that is negative, drugs, crime porn,coruption, etc we are simply carrying on a bad trend

    • Rossana Glasgow Sounds like you are describing the U.S.

    • the thing is a 1.3 million population, why are we at the bottom of the barrel with negatives. Icontinue to say failure of civil society to act and hold governments past and present accountable have positioned us where we are. I’m mixed and beleive ‘party politics’ African versus Indians are the race card is used by some politicians to divide the country. it has become so nasty thta we cannot speak to wrong doing, Not only are governments corrupted, but the people themsleves. Until we call out wrong doing , regardless which side of the political fence, we can become a mature nation. I continue to pray for my blessed country

  13. Waste is a whole series of little hemorrhages, though, so in the end we have a gradual bleeding out, even though corruption may look more like an artery gushing. And waste is non-stop, and continuous, and extends throughout every level of the society, from the highest to the lowest. It is probably at least as bad as corruption. It’s just less dramatic looking.

  14. Seriously doubt waste is worse than corruption, but we can definitely stand to lose some waste…as in reduce the amount we all generate. Mostly though, it would just be nice if some people actually started putting waste where it belongs…in their own trash containers, (not mine!) and not on the beach or in the ocean….and if UWI students, or whomever are responsible for placing non-tetrapak items in the container marked for tetrapak recycling, would start paying attention and only put tetrapak packaging, that would be really good…this is UWI….can’t imagine reading would be an issue…so what is the problem?

  15. “has a litter warden ever charged anyone with littering?” that right there is part of the problem but they were upset when their contracts ended

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