Editorial: Waste resources

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Have you ever driven behind a vehicle and seen the occupants indiscriminately toss garbage from the windows as they speed down the road? Plastic bottles, food containers, rubbish, etc? Or, have you witnessed a truck illegally dumping on a back road? Maybe you thought it was your civic duty to confront the perpetrators and that you would be rewarded with a contrite response. That is indeed a romantic view and demonstrates a good deal of civic pride; however, we are willing to bet that instead of an apology you were treated to a verbal barrage of the most foul language imaginable. We wouldn’t doubt you if you told us that the litterbugs and illegal dumpers became physically confrontational because that is where we are in our bit of paradise when it comes to civic pride; littering and illegal dumping.
At this point, you are probably wondering how does the title tie to the story, but stick around and will be connect the dots.
Antigua and Barbuda is a land of precious few natural resources, beyond our human resources. Some will add sun, sea and sand to the list, and we will not argue with that. But, we overlook a resource that is near free to us but carries no value in most people’s minds – our waste. Yes! All the waste that we produce as a nation can be ‘mined’ for our benefit. We are deliberately staying away from the word ‘recycled’ because it would appear that the vast majority of Antiguans and Barbudans feel that recycling is too much like hard work.
We are a country that imports pretty much everything, and it is for this reason that we must look to reduce our consumption of virgin material and look toward mining our garbage. Within the multitude of tons of garbage that we throw away is a huge value of materials that could be mined for our benefit. All it takes is a bit of effort and a different mindset, the latter being the harder of the two to accomplish. We need to stop looking at our garbage as useless trash and begin to see it as a mine with precious gems that simply needs to be extracted and processed.
Let’s take glass as an example. We produce a lot of glass waste. Just think of all the glass containers that you throw away daily. Beer bottles alone must produce a significant amount of waste. Then there are all the food items that come in bottles that reside in your kitchen. The thing about glass is that it is an incredibly versatile material. Crushed glass granules are currently being used in road works and in the production of concrete as an aggregate alongside more traditional ones. The glass improves the thermal insulation of the concrete, and there is evidence that the glass granules improve the long-term strength of concrete as well.
 The glass granules can be produced relatively inexpensively and in varying sizes. Because of the processing techniques, the dangers normally associated with sharp glass are virtually eliminated, to the point where the product can be used as a sand replacement in school playgrounds. And speaking of sand, we are known to have a bit of a sand supply issue, so any sand mining that we can offset with waste mining would be a welcomed relief.  By the way, the glass granules are considered excellent bedding material so it could be used to replace all of that material you see at the sides of Friar’s Hill Road and Airport Road for bedding the water pipes.
That is just one example, but we can look at waste more holistically and begin to marry the value of all the items in garbage with the ultimate benefits to our society. The residents of a small village in southwestern Japan called Kamikatsu have done just that. They have transformed their village to a nearly waste-free community. Everything is recycled. It was not easy in the beginning but the villages have adapted and are now proud of their efforts to reduce waste in their bit of paradise. The initiative began in 2003, and many of the original waste grouches are now proud supporters of the program. They have seen the benefits. and their original opposition to the program has evaporated.
Now, Kamikatsu’s population is closer to Barbuda’s than Antigua’s, but that should not matter much. Just think of the difference to our country if the mindset changes and we move closer to a waste-free society with less litter, smaller public dumps, and the benefits of mining the gems in our garbage that we currently dump. In some ways, it is like throwing away money.

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