The challenges in curbing illegal dumping

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Illegal dumping has gained traction as a problem plaguing the island. The inappropriate disposal of waste products advertises no benefits other than temporary convenience.

Over the years, villages such as Yigo and Dededo have witnessed the ugly wrath of illegal waste disposal.

As a case in point, several trash bags swollen with moldy clothes and empty bottles lie beside large waste materials such as beds, couches, and appliances the roadside near Chalan Bada in Yigo, which is near the Starts Guam Resort. At times, even junk cars can be found in the area.

Household items can even be found in places like the beach and deep in  the jungle.

Although the area has been cleaned by Yigo mayor Rudy Mantanane’s office, the dumping would still continue.

“It’s a huge societal ill that we need to be more responsible about,” said Nichola

Graphic made by Amanda Dedicatoria

s Lee, the public information officer of the Guam Environmental Protection Agency (GEPA).

 

Lee said illegal dumpsites pose many environmental concerns, such as the possibility of runoff from hazardous waste contaminating sources of the island’s drinking water.

Another problem is that the amount of waste in dumpsites is not easily quantifiable and that the types of waste in them are not always easily identifiable.

“A huge worry and concern for us is that we don’t know what people are dumping,” Lee said. “It’s not just limited to your municipal solid waste like your household trash. We’re seeing a bunch of things from construction debris, white goods, and electronics.”

There are a number of reasons why people illegally dispose of their waste. They may be reluctant or unable to afford to pay disposal fees, or they may do it because they are unwilling to invest so much effort in into getting rid of their waste properly.

Alicia Fejeran, the Waste Management supervisor of Guam Solid Waste Authority reported in a recent opinion piece that 80 percent of residential waste is recyclable. Recycling services are free and non-recyclable waste can be processed at a residential transfer station for $7.50 for up to three cubic yards of trash.

Another reason why people illegally dump could be ignorance of its harmful effects on the environment.

Greentumble, a website that discusses environmental issues, said that dumped tAudio Player

rash can become caught in rainwater runoff and contaminate water supplies. According to an article in The Pacific Daily News, some northern illegal dump sites have been found close to water wells. Because northern Guam’s land is made out of porous limestone, there is a chance that waste may pollute the groundwater.

Dumped waste can also harm wildlife. Marine animals may get caught in articles of trash such as plastic mesh and soda rings that could severely deform their bodies. Animals that have consumed waste can develop health complications.

In extreme cases, floating garbage patches, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, can be created when the tide takes in trash.

Many household appliances, such as refrigerators and freezers, may contain harmful chemicals which can be damaging when released. For example, they can contain either tetrafluoroethane or chlorofluorocarbon, both of which destroy the ozone layer.

Lastly, dumped waste is an eyesore. The sight and smell of trash can reduce tourism and community revenue, which in turn, can result in losing funds that could help deal with the issue.

This is unfortunate because the cleanup of trash takes resources such as money and manpower that could have been used for better environmental care efforts rather than in something that was thoughtless and completely preventable.

And even when an area is cleaned up, there is always a risk that it will be trashed weeks later.

Illegal dumping may be convenient, but it is a short term solution with a number of long term consequences.

It does not have to be this way. It is possible to have a more eco-friendly island if we look into how other places have been successful.

As a country, Japan recycles 77 percent of its waste and that is due to their strict waste disposal laws. As a rule of thumb, combustible trash is kept separated from noncombustible trash. Depending on where a person lives, they may be required to further divide their garbage. Stores and restaurants are encouraged to recycle their waste and must pay a fine if they decide that they want to dispose of it anyway.

For Guam, an island with a limited amount of landfill space, its people should be pressured to be more responsible with how they handle their waste. It is the community’s obligation to take care of the land around them.

If people were to sort through their trash and take the time to divide it, they might become more aware of their output and more conservative with their trash.

“It’s amazing how much you can reduce landfill waste by doing aggressive recycling,” Denney said. “You just have to care a little bit.”

Denney also said that if members of the community are struggling to take their waste to a transfer facility, she offers her assistance.   

I also believe that educating people about the effects of dumping and the benefits of properly disposing their trash would be vital in the effort to lessen acts of improper waste disposal.   

Education and outreach, for one, should be of the utmost priority, because how are people supposed to know how badly improper waste disposal can harm them and their community?

“It’s more of a matter of helping people understand the negative impacts of litter and its impact on the tourism industry as far as the beauty of the island,” Denney said.   

People need to know that they have options in cases like this one. One of the reasons why people illegally dump, according to Peggy Denney, the administrator of i*recycle, is that they just do not know where the waste transfer stations are or are unable to pay the fee for proper disposal.

Denney, a proponent of the three R’s of green living – reduce, reuse, and recycle – urges community members to get their families and neighbors together to separate and recycle their trash so that they can share the costs of disposing their waste.

As far as enforcing existing legislation surrounding littering, things can get a little tricky.

Guam law states that dumping on public or private property can carry fines up to $1000 per violation. The Guam EPA solid waste division does issue notices to people who illegally dump, but in order for dumpers to be charged, they would practically have to be caught in the act because otherwise it would be difficult to prove that they committed the crime since these acts are usually done in secluded areas.

If the crime is reported and the person who called it in refuses to testify in court, then no further legal action could be taken.

Lee said in order to catch these individuals, members of Guam EPA’s solid waste department sort through dumped waste for items that could link to the identity of the person who may have disposed of the trash.

Once they find something with a name and address, then the person’s information is cross-referenced using resources from Revenue and Taxation so that the department may go out and look for the individual who may be held responsible for having the trash improperly disposed of.

An issue with that method, however, is that some violators could be taking the time to cut out any information that may tie them to the waste.

Lee also elaborated about the new government taskforce, Basta Y Basula, which targets illegal dumping.  The taskforce was conceived after Islandwide Beautification Day, in which litter was cleaned up from various areas of the island.

The task force is comprised of representatives from Guam EPA, the Department of Public Works, Parks and Recreations, the Department of Corrections, the Guam Police Department, and the Department of Waste Authority.

The task force organizes clean-up, outreach, and education efforts about improper waste disposal.

Perhaps in time with education, outreach efforts, and stricter disposal laws, the island of Guam will become a lot cleaner and more sustainable than it is today.

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