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Together, we can put trash in its proper place

April 23, 2021

A case study in 2004 recognized Saipan’s solid waste management system as a model for other South Pacific islands to follow. The same year, the island received the Silver Solid Waste Management System Award/Planning & Management Division from the Solid Waste Association of North America, a well-respected group that advocates for the practice of environmentally and economically sound management of municipal solid waste in the region. At one time, Saipan had a solid waste management plan.

Nearly two decades later, here we are having critical concerns about the proliferation of litter in the Commonwealth and the alarmingly higher rate of waste disposal at the Marpi landfill. Both pose a big threat to our health and safety, our economy, and most especially our environment.

While the concept is not new to the CNMI, the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers (GCEA) recommends the immediate need to reinstitute a comprehensive solid waste management system. We appreciate Governor Torres and Lt. Governor Palacios’ attention to this matter, as well as the work of the Office of Planning and Development to study the Universal Garbage Collection process. Establishing a sustainable, integrated garbage collection system on Rota, Tinian, and Saipan is a critical first step toward making the Commonwealth a cleaner and safer place to live.

Under the GCEA’s proposed universal garbage collection (UGC) system, the program will involve regularly scheduled curbside pick-ups and installing trash receptacles in open spaces. The cost of the collection services will be integrated into the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation’s (CUC) billings. The CUC, under Public Law 4-47 signed by then Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio on Oct. 1, 1985, is mandated to supervise the construction, maintenance operations, and regulation of all utility services, including refuse collection or municipal solid waste. The inclusion of garbage collection and disposal fees with other utility bills like power, water, and sewer are current best practices adopted throughout communities in the United States.

There are three existing garbage collection and disposal services on Saipan, and a single firm cannot cover all the islands. GCEA proposes, through government contracts, for these operators to establish garbage collection zones across Rota, Tinian, and Saipan, mirroring the current electoral precincts system, and offer communal garbage transfer stations within each zone.

The price of progress

The council recommends that the CNMI implement standardized rates and charges across customers and zones. By spreading the cost amongst residential and commercial customers, we will be able to drive costs down and subsidize public spaces.

Currently, one trash collection company charges $35 to $80 for small to large bins for weekly residential pick-up. For commercial service, charges start at $100 for twice-weekly service or more, depending on the type of establishment. Those who do not utilize these services either manage their transfers or illegally dump their trash.

With the zone system, scheduled collections at specific sites will minimize operational costs, which can be passed on to customers. With an established UGC service that spreads the costs amongst residential and commercial customers, the rates can be potentially lower.

Garbage is everyone’s business. Our trash is our responsibility as a community, and the cost to properly dispose of our garbage is ours to share. A CNMI-wide system will improve the overall cleanliness and sanitation in the islands and bring progress for the Commonwealth. Perhaps it would deter people from dumping white goods or commercial food waste in the jungles.

UGC and solid waste disposal are just two components of an integrated waste management system, but they are critical to the successful management of waste. Recycling, education, and landfill management are also key elements in a successful system, which will be discussed in the next two columns.

In small island communities such as ours, proper waste disposal can be challenging, given our remoteness, limited alternatives for solid waste disposal, and economies of scale. Our limited land, fragile ecosystems, and dependence on tourism require that we make waste management a priority. It may take a generation to change how we manage our waste, but as with every big change to improve our community, we need to start somewhere. TOGETHER, WE CAN.

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., a certified public accountant, 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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