Bringing Dignity to a Dirty Job Print E-mail
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Written by By Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 04 September 2014 00:00

We have not heard about the dumpsite “scavengers” since the late Keith Swift’s great award winning piece in November of 2008. The “jungle”, as the scavengers refer to it, was cleared, covered and closed in 2010 under the IDB funded Solid Waste Management project. This project not only got rid of the eye sore that was the jungle but has significantly improved the working environment of the men and women who were once called “scavangers”, the bottom feeders of society.

The Solid Waste Management Authority is now responsible for the disposal of garbage from out of Belize City and other municipalities in the Western Corridor. The location that was the “jungle” is now a temporary holding facility for the city’s garbage known as transfer station. The compound houses a 600 square meter building where garbage is collected from households, business institutions and non-processed industrial waste. Those are then separated and taken to mile 24 on the George Price Highway, site of the state of the art sanitary landfill.

While the garbage is at the transfer station, the people formerly referred to as scavengers take over. They are scavengers no more because the more than thirty men and woman working at the station are now part of the system. They are responsible to separate the garbage into recyclable and non-recyclable materials. The non-recyclable materials are transferred to the landfill for disposal. The recyclable materials are sold by the workers who are now referred to as “recyclers”. These recyclers sell metals, plastic and retainable containers to various companies. One recycler says, “On a good day I can make up to $50.”

It is extremely hard and undesirable work. One recycler who wish to remain nameless says, “It is hard work; it is tough but it’s an honest living.” He says, “I only do this because of my kids. I can easily thief and thing to mind them but I don’t want to mess up and go to jail left them.” Another recycler says, “I am not ashame working here at all. I make decent money and I don’t harm anyone.” He says, “People shouldn’t be too proud to work these types of jobs.”

 Both men have been working at the site for numerous years, from the days of the jungle. They say things are much better now under the Solid Waste Management Authority. Lumen Cayetano, Senior Solid Waste Technician at Solid Waste Management Authority, says they have been working with the recyclers to improve the health and safety conditions under which they operate. In the days of the jungle, scavengers would take turns to hide from the sun in old rat infested vehicles or cardboard tents. The Solid Waste Management Authority constructed a resting area with picnic benches for the recyclers. There are now male and female bathroom facilities for them equipped with showers. Cayetano says they are encouraged to take showers and change into clean clothes before they leave from the facility. Cayetano says, “One of the things we have failed to do over the years is recognize and commend them for the important things that they do in terms of the resource recovery and diversion of waste from the landfill.”  

On Wednesday, September 03, the Solid Waste Management Authority handed out new rubber booths, gloves, facemasks and reflective tops to the recyclers. Gilroy Lewis, Director of the Solid Waste Management, says, “We will do whatever we can to make them safe in this environment.”

The total cost of the Solid Waste Management Project is a little over US$14.5 million dollars. Over US$11 million is from the IDB and the rest is from the OPEC fund for International Development and counterpart funds from the Government of Belize. The Solid Waste Management Authority operates out of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.