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Should we be paying for our solid waste disposal?

Yesterday, we heard from the Director of the Belize Solid Waste Management Authority about the timeline in which critical transfer stations in Belmopan and Dangriga will be operational. But the discussion our newsroom had with Lumen Cayetano brought up the issue of citizen buy-in. In other words, should US citizens contribute to the efforts to securely dispose of our refuse? Cayetano outlines why its perhaps time for us to have the discussion that we should treat garbage disposal as a utility. 

Lumen Cayetano, Director Belize Solid Waste Management Authority: “It has been nothing less of a challenge to provide these services as it relates to covering the costs of these operations. As you rightly mentioned, everyone looks to Government to make provisions to operate these facilities but at the end of the day, we are the generators of the waste. We should be responsible, in part, for the proper disposal of the waste, starting from setting out your waste on the curbside for your collection day for it to be taken away. Paying for these services has been a challenge and it has not helped the situation because people are no longer being responsible for what they’re generating. They’re not contributing and collaborating with the system. If you go to these municipalities, one of the reasons why one of the municipalities are not in a proper position to address the waste issues in their municipalities is because they collect very little where fees are concerned that are associated with the proper management of waste within those communities. So cost recovery is an essential element of sustainability for a system or for systems like these. Fortunately for us, the Government has been able to finance these operations. If you position that against a situation where Government is not able to do so then we will run into a situation where of course, households will have to contribute. But in the interim, Government has given its commitment to continue to provide its financing for us to be able to run these facilities but that does not remove the fact that users of this service need to collaborate with systems like these through paying a fee in order for the systems to be sustainable.”

And then there’s the argument that not everyone can afford it, especially when there are other critical, but competing interests such as food, clothing, and education. Cayetano believes that a phased approach should be implemented for those who are on the economic margins so they will not have a heavy burden. Here’s how she explained it. 

Lumen Cayetano, Director Belize Solid Waste Management Authority: “There are mechanisms within cost recovery that accommodates for these types of individuals so whatever they would have to contribute under a cost recovery mechanism system would be far lesser than what, somebody, say in a middle upper class would have to contribute. There’s a cross subsidy built into these mechanisms that now accommodate and covers, for lack of a better term, for people who kind of sit on the margins and are not able to afford the payment for such a service. It is understood that they are going to contribute the bare minimum that they can and we encourage for that to happen. But, as persons who are more in a position to pay for the service then we are the ones who should be more willing to do so and of course, you have Government on the other hand who will now be there to meet the shortfall because any system where you’re asking people to pay, you will not come overnight with an exorbitant fee and tell people well starting next month you will have to pay X amount without now phasing it in, without now softening the blow because the truth is, we have become so accustomed to not paying for waste management in particular. And you made reference to the electricity bill, water bill, which are other utility types and waste management, a waste management tariff, can also be considered a utility and it is something that we should pay for but we have not been cultured in a way that it comes easy for us to do.”

There have been talks about implementing a garbage tariff in Belize City, but that has so far not materialized.