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Together, we can practice the 3Rs to minimize waste

Friday, April 30, 2021

As we continue our discussion about universal garbage collection (UGC), we should understand how the Marpi Landfill plays a role in this process. The Marpi Landfill is a 26-acre waste management facility with six cells of two and a half million cubic yards of airspace. A cell is where the trash is stored by compressing the garbage, while airspace pertains to the disposal capacity of the cell. The landfill began operating in 2003, and the disposal rate, or the amount of garbage dumped at the facility, was considerably low for the first two years.

However, a 2019 feasibility study from GHD and Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc. reported the alarmingly high consumption of airspace and disposal rate at the landfill in the last 10 years. They disclosed that 28% of the facility’s airspace has been exhausted as of February 2019, and Cells 1 and 2’s lifespan was approximately six years, down to about four years by now. That would make it around 2025. A news report in 2018 indicated Cell 1, which has the biggest capacity of the six cells, has reached its capacity. For Cell 2 to be expanded, Cell 3 must be opened first.

These numbers tell us to act now or be sorry later.

This reality became the driving force behind the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers' recommendation to implement a UGC system to immediately address waste management in Rota, Tinian, and Saipan. This also led to discussions about how we can minimize waste on all three islands by revisiting the 3Rs – reduce, reuse, and recycle – in an improved and integrated waste management system.

The CNMI has an existing law on recycling, known as the Commonwealth Recycling Act of 1999 or Public Law 11-122 signed by then Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio in 2000. Under the law, the public is encouraged to recycle metal, plastic, and paper waste, and compost biodegradable waste. The construction of recycling processing stations was also explored. When the Lower Base Refuse Transfer Station opened in early 2000, as many as seven companies provided recycling services in the CNMI. Today, there’s only one left.

Did you know that nearly 70% of the trash that we dispose at the Marpi Landfill is recyclable?

The 3Rs program can also offer economic opportunities similar to a program in Palau. Palau established a beverage container redemption program with public and private tourism stakeholders. The program produced an 87% recovery rate of bottles (105 million beverage containers were collected and 1.5 million were exported from 2011-2018). This generated $3 million in donations for Palau’s recycling fund and $5.2 million in refunds for customers.

More waste diversion programs are recommended in the study. This relates to a point made by the Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, the group that advocates for the protection and restoration of the CNMI’s natural resources. The group emphasizes that the effective management of trash, recycling, and the reduction of debris deposited into our landfill are critical to having a clean, safe and secure environment. We wholeheartedly agree. TOGETHER, WE CAN properly address these issues to create a positive, long-lasting environmental and economic impact in the Commonwealth.

For more information, visit the GCEA on Facebook and Instagram (@cnmigov.economy) or contact them at


Mike Sablan is the Vice President of Triple J Enterprises, Inc. and chairperson of the Domestic Policy and Recovery Committee of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. As an advisory council for Gov. Torres and Lt. Gov. Palacios, the GCEA’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the CNMI for all residents.

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