December 31, 2021
Håfa Adai yan Tirow Wóómi! It has been 90 days of research and information gathering for the Universal Garbage Collection (UGC) Task Force volunteers. We are pleased to report that we have submitted on-time our draft report to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for his review and comments. After the Governor reviews the report, we will then finalize and share it with the Legislature for their input. We will also conduct community meetings to welcome input from the public. We want this process to be inclusive to ensure that our community’s concerns and recommendations will be acknowledged and addressed.
Our community supports the implementation of a UGC system. Indigenous community elders, the curators of the land and waters of the Mariana Islands, have shared their strong support of UGC. They would like to return to the cleaner environment of 30 to 40 years ago when there were fewer people, less commercially-generated garbage, and littering. They stressed a sense of urgency to change our habits, the volume of trash generated, and how we are managing the commonwealth’s trash issues. We will hear and learn more about the community’s sentiments once we embark on our community outreach.
The UGC report shows some interesting statistics and finds that in the Marianas, 30,044 tons of trash were disposed of from Dec. 1, 2020, to Nov. 30, 2021. Of that, 72% or 21,597 tons came from Commercial Haulers; 19% or 5,778 tons from the government, and 9% or 2,669 tons from individual homeowners. This does not take into account the trash that is illegally dumped.
The report also broke down the types of garbage that made up the total waste: cardboard and other fiber materials (33.3%), other materials (25.6%), yard waste and organics (16.3%), plastics (16.2%), cans and metal containers (5.6%), and glass (4.9%). The GBB Saipan Solid Waste study shows that 26% of the waste was highly recyclable and another 25% could have been recycled or repurposed. This means that half of the waste should not have ended up in landfills.
These same landfills are slated to be closed in a few years due to the volumes of trash deposited. The UGC initiative will help keep our landfills useable through the introduction of composting and recycling programs. This will be the best, most cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable disposal method for the Marianas. The importance of waste management cannot be underscored enough. Poor waste handling and disposal leads to environmental pollution, encourages the breeding of disease-vector insects, scavengers and rodents, and results in a range of diseases.
I thank our community for getting behind this UGC initiative. It will show the world that the Marianas cares about the Earth and will once again be able to showcase its pristine waters and litter-free landscape. Through the process, I appreciated how community members called, sent articles, and contributed ideas to make the UGC plan a working, community-built plan.
Lastly, I want to thank each of our UGC task force chairpersons, members, and volunteers for the work that went into building the draft recommendations to the Governor. UGC task force committee members contributed institutional knowledge, specialized skills, and a great heart for our Marianas. Our job is not entirely done, and I look forward to our community’s continued support and feedback. I wish you all the best in this New Year.
By Gary Sword, Chairman, Universal Garbage Collection Task Force
Gary Sword is the Vice President of the KKMP Radio Station, one of the most popular and beloved stations in the Marianas, and has extensive experience in power, water, wastewater, and solid waste services. Gary serves as a member of the Domestic Policy Recovery Committee for the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers.