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.
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.