Opinion: the Saba recycling program

Opinion article published in The Daily Herald:

Dear Editor,

Thank you for allowing me this space in your well read newspaper. Today, February 27, the Island Government of Saba will open its new state-of-theart recycling facility, and officially launch the Recycle for Saba programme. This project will reform not only the way we think about waste, but more so how the waste will be processed. This historical launching has been long anticipated, however, the road which has led to this occasion has been anything but easy.

Normally, I keep away from addressing social media chatter especially around election time. Seeing that I have devoted so much to this project, I feel it necessary that I must tell my side of the story and using this medium would be the best means for me to get my message to the masses.

The landfill or dump problem is one which I inherited when I became Commissioner in July 2007. Over the years it would seem that many have been under the impression, especially now that elections are close, that I was responsible for its current location. I am only 33 years old, but as far as I can remember, garbage was dumped over the Dark Cliff and burned for many years. This site was eventually closed and it was moved to its current location in the early 1990s, where the normal procedure of burning continued. With little or no local funding available to make any significant improvements the situation at the landfill continued unaltered for the first years until 2010, when the first version of Waste Management Plan Saba was launched by my person. A project was also executed that year which was financed through the Social Economic Initiative (SEI). With this funding the volume of the landfill was reduced and the metals were exported. The management of the landfill was outsourced and great efforts were placed on burying the household waste. This initiative eventually failed because it was quickly seen that the volume of the waste would quickly fill the landfill. It also created a major fly issue on the island as the landfill became the ideal breeding spot.

During the transition a quartermaster was appointed to Saba and Statia, with one of his goals being to assist with the waste management issues. Many discussions were held, but they were all in vain as no money was being made available to solve a very visible problem. In 2011, the island government was introduced to a product which was being used on Aruba to burn sewage. The Airburner, which was purchased in 2012, was an initiative which was supported by the Dutch Government. Although not the perfect solution it was seen as a major improvement to what the current practice was, and it was affordable. When it came to financing this purchase, the Dutch Ministry clearly stated that there was no funding available to purchase such expensive equipment even though the initiative was supported; however, there would be some funding available to buy a similar product. This Airburner was second hand (2008 model) and in Europe; this was an alternative which was unacceptable. A proposal to make the purchase locally was presented to the Island Council and it received unanimous support.

When the Airburner was commissioned we then faced another problem. Pallets, which were once discarded by local businesses and the cargo boats, were now being confiscated so that they could be sold to government. These pallets were needed to help increase the temperature of the Airburner so that it could burn at a much higher temperature, which ultimately reduced the emissions. The local business owners and the cargo boats forced government to purchase pallets monthly so that the Airburner could even operate.

Great efforts in lobbying for funding to improve the waste management system on Saba continued with the Dutch Government. In October 2013, I presented a revised waste management plan which emphasized recycling. This proposal was accepted and ultimately expanded to what we have now realised for Saba. In 2014, a project manager was made available as well as over 1.3 million euros to execute the project. With this project the main issue, which has plagued the villages of St. Johns and The Bottom, will be solved. The days of open burning will come to an end. We now have a medical-grade incinerator capable of reaching temperatures between 1,000 and 1,700 degrees Celsius in both chambers. Before the smoke is released it is burned in the secondary chamber. The more we recycle the better this process will go. This will go a long way to improve the quality of life for the residents of St. Johns and The Bottom.

Over the years, especially recently, I have received a great amount of criticism about the landfill. I know of instances where persons have wanted to put garbage in front of my house to have it burned, and times when it has been proposed to wake me out of my sleep so that I could come and smell the smoke. Everyone knows that I live in Zions Hill, but I am sure that everyone also knows that I have a wife who teaches at the Saba Comprehensive School for over 12 years and a daughter who attends the Sacred Heart School. Both schools are in St. Johns. Furthermore, as a Commissioner, I represent the people of every village, St. Johns and The Bottom included. Since 2007, I have proven to be dedicated to improving our waste management system. I can boldly state that I have done more than any other former commissioner, political advisor, community activist or self-proclaimed environmentalist to improve our waste management system. It is easy for one to point fingers from the outside about everything that is going wrong, but until you are actually in the position to make that next step you will quickly realise how difficult it is to solve the garbage issue. The progress which I have made may not have always been with the speed that I wanted or the community wanted, but it has been steady. This progress has been possible because of my dedication to this process.

In closing, I would like to invite the community to the grand opening this afternoon at 3:30 at the landfill. In the coming days and weeks there will be a massive information campaign about recycling and the new processes. The realization of this project has been long awaited. With the support of the community we can make this a success and Saba can be an example for the region when it comes to waste management.

Thank You,

Bruce Zagers

The new recycling facility at Fort Bay. (Photo GIS Saba)
The new recycling facility at Fort Bay.
(Photo GIS Saba)
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