from the Ambergris Today http://www.ambergriscayenews.com/html/archives.php?p=122007#_st2
Pictures also by Ambergris Today Garbage Problems- by Karl Borland, (San Pedro Junior College, Advance English Research Paper, October 29, 2007)
Garbage in San Pedro has become a problem of epidemical proportions and poses a serious threat to human health, the tourism industry and the natural environment. Like any other town in Belize, San Pedro has discarded metals from vehicles, construction sites, rubber tires, spent golf cart batteries, glass bottles, plastic bags and bottles, metal cans, depleted lubes and oils from vehicles and aircrafts, food wastes from restaurants and the day to day garbage from homes. As a community grows, garbage increases, multiplying the hazards to human health and the environment. The water from the lagoon adjacent to the lagoon is polluted by oils dumped in the lagoon. The food source and vegetation for the swamp creatures are polluted and this causes the deaths of hundreds of crabs, turtles, shrimp, small fishes and even birds such as the flamingo.
As a community with a rapidly growing tourism industry, San Pedro must maintain a clean and healthy landscape at all times. The existing garbage dump has long since outlived its usefulness and is still being used today. Scattered garbage on the island, especially where the general population is concentrated, is not very tourist friendly. The question is, “where in the next two years will San Pedro throw its garbage?”
In 1952 San Pedro Ambergris Caye became the general focus of the government of Belize and foreign investors. The island was seen as having the strongest potential for tourism development in this region. (Government gazette 1952). However the development was retarded by Belize’s quest for independence from Great Britain. In 1962 Belize was granted self government and license was granted to numerous investors foreign and local, and the tourism destination known as San Pedro Ambergris Caye was born. It was placed under the ministry of natural resources headed by Hon. Carl Linberg Bertram Rogers.
During the early stages disposal was little or no problem for the San Pedranos. Few tin cans and plastic materials were available. People would normally burn coconut husks, pieces of wood or paper in an open space in their yards. Life then was rather natural and laid back. The development was slow due to the lack of machinery to transport equipment and items from the mainland. In time, all this would change as the Belizean Industrial Revolution in the 1970’s brought tens of tons of non biodegradable material to San Pedro. This came in the form of all type of construction material, vehicles, aircrafts, glass bottles, metal cans, plastic containers etc. Unfortunately, no environmental laws were passed to control the garbage situation in San Pedro.
On September 27, 1984, the status of San Pedro was changed from village to township and was Gazetted as a town in Belize under the ministry of rural development. (Government Gazette 1984). In October 1985 the first San Pedro town council was elected led by Mayor Hilberto “Chico” Gomez with a mandate to maintain the cleanliness of all public and private areas of San Pedro. Public areas meant all streets, parks, lagoons and the beach, private areas, and involved the close monitoring of the cleanliness of private properties, hotels, restaurants, bars and shops.
Across San Pedro, construction was going up everywhere, mega resorts, hotels and restaurants were being opened. Tourists from all over the world were coming to the island. Materials of all sorts were pumped onto the island and the garbage began piling up. Even so, the euphoria of rapid development blinded the town council; the issue of proper garbage disposal was put on the back burner. The garbage that could not be destroyed by fire continued to pile on the corners of Barrier Reef Drive and Pescador Drive. The aroma of the immediate surroundings was offensive, and some of the garbage even wound up on the street. It was clear that something had to be done and fast.
In December 1981 Hon. C.L.B Rogers visited San Pedro for the first time and was appalled at the garbage situation on the island. The garbage was piled up in the street corners and posed a serious threat to human health. At that time, locals used wells as a water source, and when it rained, water drained from the garbage into the wells contaminating the water with lead. As a result two people got severely ill from lead poisoning due to water contamination. (Ministry of health records 1981).
The minister ordered that garbage containers be placed at every street corner in San Pedro, and a specific area be designated for garbage disposal by the town council. On December 15, 1981 the town council designated the “San Juan” area northwest San Pedro as the first ever garbage disposal area in San Pedro’s history. (San Pedro town council records 1981). The site was chosen because it was by large a swamp and was designated for land filling. On January 5, 1982 the government of Belize delivered the first British made Land Rover jeep to the San Pedro town council to facilitate rapid garbage disposal.
Having anticipated the garbage threat to human health, the tourism industry and the environment the government of Belize stationed the first residential public health inspector (a local San Pedrano), Mr. Florencio Acosta on 1st February 1982. (National archives 1982).
However, San Pedro grew as no one could imagine. Between 1982 and 1990 San Pedro was transformed from a little town to the number one tourist destination in the region. Machinery such as outboard motors, cars, motorcycles, trucks, tractors, mini-vans and gas operated gulf carts flooded the island. Also, a full fledged airport operated a fleet of airplanes. Huge construction sites kept going up like a tsunami. This created the conditions for massive amounts of construction waste, from machinery and aircrafts depleted lube and oils, spent tires, old machines and parts and old vehicles and from restaurants food wastes, rotten meats and vegetables and broken glass. From the local populace, plastic bags, bottles, containers and metals cans of all sizes flooded the island.
By 1990 the San Juan area had outlived its usefulness as a garbage disposal area. The residential area of town had reached the very outskirts of the garbage dump. Some homes were literally in the garbage as development overran the area. Being exposed to the hazardous elements of the garbage, little children living in the area developed severe skin rashes and sporadic vomiting (Ministry of Health 1990). Citing the health risk in the area the public health inspector officially closed the San Juan area to garbage disposal. (Town Council records 1990).
Environmentalists became very concerned about the impact the garbage had on the habitat of the animals living near the dump. Thereafter, the environmental damage was assed by Dr. Fred Hunter from the ministry of natural environment. His findings were that the natural habitat of entire species such as crabs, shrimps, small fishes and even nesting birds in the mangroves were either destroyed or displaced by contamination. (Ministry of environment records 1990.)
The search was on for a new garbage disposal area in San Pedro. In September 1990 officials from the ministry of health, environment and the town council convened at the San Pedro town hall and reviewed health and environment reports on possible sites in the San Juan area and the extreme southern area of the island. After solid dialogue, the site at the southern tip of San Pedro was chosen on the grounds that it was one mile south of the last residential area known as Victoria House.
Today in 2007, it still remains the garbage disposal area in San Pedro. Development on the island continues to boom and garbage has tripled since 1990. Since then, the distance between the garbage dump and the residential area has been reduced from one mile to one hundred feet as development has once again reached the immediate outskirts of the garbage dump. Despite burning and other efforts to create space the dump has once again outlived its usefulness and reeked havoc on the natural habitat of animals that live and thrive in these areas. Presently the tourist industry is in its peak and the town council is not fully equipped with trucks and tractors to facilitate rapid collection and garbage disposal. The town council has experienced problems with the picking up as well as the disposal of garbage. However equipment is not the real issue; the garbage dump is scheduled to be officially closed no later than 2009. (San Pedro town council manifesto).With no more space remaining on the island the million dollar question arises, where will he next San Pedro garbage dump be?
However, through all the discomforts of garbage in San Pedro, Julia Rivero has a success story to tell. Julia is 55years old and a native of Guatemala. She came to San Pedro in 1975. Julia is about five feet tall, soft spoken and skinny. Immediately upon arriving in San Pedro, Julia became a bottle vendor. She collects discarded glass beer and soda bottles and sells them to the distributors. She also collects aluminum and copper and takes it to Belize City by barge and sells it to the Mexican metal vendors.
Over the years Julia has built herself a house with the proceeds of bottles and metals. Julia has shown that almost anything can be put to good use. When asked if she is ready to retire Julia replied “I will never retire as long as I have strength to pick up bottles. This is what feeds and shelters me. These people have a gold mine here and they don’t realize it”.
As simple as it might appear, Julia has the answer to San Pedro’s garbage problem. Julia has demonstrated that recycling is worth the while. It doesn’t only keep the community clean but it can better of the life of any person who chooses to embrace recycling. The tourism industry generates millions of dollars in revenues that adds to the development of San Pedro. Therefore, it is my opinion that legislation be passed to reserve a specific amount of money annually to fund garbage recycling in San Pedro.
Obviously, the garbage cannot be shipped off the island because then it creates another problem some where else. Therefore, the government of Belize, the San Pedro town council and local Sanpedranos must be prepared to venture into the new era of garbage recycling. Recycling can be done with all materials such as metals, glass, plastics and paper.
According to current town council Major Elsa Paz, recycling is the answer, “The garbage situation in San Pedro is not yet out of control; we all need to be community minded and adapt to recycling. Presently the town council is drafting up plans as to how the recycling will be done and at what scale, but it must be a unified community effort,” she said.
In addition, recycling reduces health risks to human and damage to the environment. Not all the garbage needs recycling, perishable products such as fruits, vegetables, food waste, trees, bushes and grass are all organic waste and eventually will rot away or can be composted and used as fertilizer.
However, time is not on our side and something must be done without delay and recycling seems to be the only plausible answer to this problem. Nevertheless, one thing is certain as soon as garbage recycling is implemented the garbage problem in San Pedro will be drastically reduced.
Regardless of garbage, the tourism industry continues to grow at neck breaking speed. The town council continues to do its best to keep the place clean for the good of all. From as far back as 1952 garbage began to be a problem for San Pedro. It got worst in the 1970’s when large amounts of construction materials, etc. were brought to the island.
When San Pedro was changed from village to township the new town council was faced with the enormous task of cleaning up the island. It wasn’t until the visit of Hon. C.L.B Rogers to San Pedro that real action was taken to address the garbage situation. Over the years the island grew like wild fire; it saw two designated garbage sites outlive their usefulness.
It had affected human livelihood and the natural environment, not to mention the polluting of wildlife habitat. It is clear that recycling is the only solution to San Pedro’s garbage dilemma. Other tourist destination Caribbean islands such as the Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kits and Nevis, St. Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines have teemed together and formed a waste management project entitled “preserving paradise”. This project embraces recycling and is equally funded by the tourism associations of each island. The waste will be recycled to produce electricity which would be responsible for eight percent of all the electricity these islands consume by 2010.Yes, San Pedro has a garbage problem and it’s not too late to solve this problem. The answer is realistic, recycling now or suffer the consequences tomorrow.