November 18, 2021
Last week, I took a trip to Rota and sat down with Honorable Mayor Efraim M. Atalig, Mayor of Rota, to discuss his vision for Rota’s solid waste collection and disposal. He shared that solid waste collection and disposal is a challenge, as there are no commercial trash collection services on the island. Families and businesses are tasked to bring their garbage to the landfill.
With the debris impact from Typhoon Mangkhut, the landfill is filling up faster than the residents expected. They will soon need to find new ground to open another landfill. The Rota Landfill is an open dumpsite that is managed by four of the mayor’s dedicated staff members and three pieces of antiquated equipment.
Mayor Atalig shared that for the most part, people are good at bringing their garbage to the landfill, but some people still throw their garbage in the jungle or over a cliff into the ocean. His staff has been trained and deputized to issue citations for littering, but they are waiting for the Bureau of Environmental Quality to provide the citation books. A lot of Rota families don’t have vehicles to bring the garbage to the dumpsite, so they depend on other family members to dump their trash.
Mayor Atalig also conveyed his growing concerns for the health and safety of the community. The threat of sickness and disease that emanate from rotting garbage, and its possible effects on their groundwater source are among the greatest of these. It is terrifying to know that the trash discarded into the ocean is being eaten by the same fish that our people consume. Ocean pollution is unsightly, but what we can’t see is worse. Most of the garbage dumped in the ocean sits at the bottom, and we’re unlikely to ever be able to clean it up.
Rota’s residents are proud of their island and take great care in keeping it clean to the best of their abilities and resources. Mayor Atalig’s office is looking into sourcing a garbage truck to pick up residential garbage to deter illegal dumping. After hearing that the Universal Garbage Collection Task Force will incorporate solid waste management for Rota, he was excited and welcomes any help they can get to resolve their trash issues.
Mayor Atalig added that his staff spends a lot of time picking up trash along the roadways and keeps visitor areas clean and beautiful. He said he hopes that one day Rota can have a universal garbage collection so that his staff can focus on other areas of need in the municipality.
All over the island, you can see signs that read “Na gatbo Luta”, which means “keep Rota beautiful”. There’s no better way to keep this island pristine than by helping them first establish a solid waste management system.
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.