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JM | Nov 14, 2022

Leo Gilling | Garbage has more profound social and political implications than meets the eye

/ Our Today

Leo Gilling

On my last trip to Jamaica, I noticed the uncomfortable reality of seeing garbage all over Kingston. I had seen it in the country areas, but it was most pronounced as I drove through Kingston and St Andrew city areas. It is so condensed since the city areas are more condensed.

My friend admitted it’s never been this bad.

With the garbage in mind, I decided to have her take me to the Riverton City dump. I never knew where this place was, so I was genuinely curious about this place. I’ve heard in songs since I was a child. It was about 7 am, so I expected to see many trucks moving back and forth, leaving trash. Only one truck was there. Garbage was not dumped earlier in the morning. There was quiet about, but the stench in the air was unbearable. I had to keep the window closed. With each Jamaican disposing of at least 2 lbs of garbage each day, more than 50 per cent of solid waste from around Kingston, one would expect several vehicles moving about with others waiting in line to unload. That was not happening. It makes sense then why so much garbage is on the street side.

National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) sanitation workers with the Metropolitan Parks and Markets Waste Management Limited clear garbage from a section of downtown Kingston.

The mass trash exposure around Kingston made me wonder why there is so much waste around the city, yet the Riverton Dump is quiet. My friend responded, “We don’t seem to have any trucks”. I couldn’t believe that. All the trucks can’t bruk dung at di same time. I returned home wondering why there was so much garbage pile-up. Where are the trucks? Weh de dumpa dem deh? Who is responsible for trash pickup?

Writing this article allowed me to look deeper at this issue.


Excessive litter in an urban area can create health and safety risks for residents and a haven for the growth of bacteria. Several disease forms are possible through direct or indirect contact with citizens. Uncleared trash will attract pests, flies, and maggots. The implications of trash pile-ups in various contexts;

1. From a public health perspective, what are the possible health dangers of trash pile-ups? Rain comes wet! Sun, burn! Odors are emitting into people’s faces! In this article, I seek to explore and understand more about the problems of solid waste in Jamaica and examine the implications. I also want to review the political and social consequences of excessive garbage.

Excess garbage around the city has other social and political implications. The broken window theory, proposed by James Q. Wilson in 1982, holds that theft, vandalism, and other crimes increase when excessive trash invades an urban city. The criminal justice theory also holds that seemingly minor social and physical disorders in urban spaces can contribute to an atmosphere of lawlessness that encourages more serious crimes. There is a higher risk of crime when compared with places where the city spaces are clean.” Individuals inclined to offend will be empowered to do so when these disorders are present in these areas. If garbage is regularly removed, cities will continue to enjoy clean communities that are less likely to encourage crime.

However, if the incidents of trash persist, especially what I saw in Kingston, and situations precipitated the disgust of the nation’s prime minister, who says, “I am embarrassed,” Jamaica has problems. Trash like this begets trash.

NSWMA garbage truck.

If citizens continue to see trash daily, passersby will add more waste, making residents seem apathetic. They will think that no one cares. Chief William ‘Bill’ Bratton introduced broken-windows policing (using the broken-windows theory) in the early 1990s when the crime rate peaked in New York; murders, property crimes, and others.

Bratton thought to use broken windows policing as a catalyst to police minor crimes, turnstile jumping, double parking, traffic violations, and other minor offenses to reducing serious crime. It worked. It took little time to see the benefits of the new strategy. After a few years, the rate of major crimes like murder, rape, and robbery decreased and remained low.

However, employing such a practice requires high professionalism, integrity, and firmly enforcing of the law by police officers. Officers should feel secure in their jobs and will not take bribes. People must believe that police officers are fair and just in executing their duties. Broken windows policing works in many cities across the USA, but New York had a very high success rate. Due to alleged police misconduct, and racial profiling, the technique was discontinued. New York’s crime and murder rates remained low, however.

The concept of broken window policing created another level of deterrence that made individuals think twice about committing a crime. They ultimately and more likely choose not to commit a crime because of the deterrence by the police presence, the system of being processed and sentenced to prison, and negotiating their way through courts and corrections. No more jaywalking or throwing trash on the curb; everyone found a trash bin to dump their banana skins, empty water bottle, and plastic wraps. The fear of being caught and arrested was a significant deterrent.

An excellent example of deterrence is: Have you heard of the bad-man bully (with a likely weapon protruding under his shirt) who, while living in Jamaica, skips the line, shouts at the servers at the counter, and bullies them to serve him first? While waiting, people standing forever in line watched in fear, anger, and disgust. He gets a visa, goes to Colorado, USA, walks into a store, and sees a long line. Instead of bullying, he falls in line and waits an hour for his turn to be served. There is nothing to it. He knows that the police would be there in seconds “to deal wid him case” if he uttered any sound to create fear, “bad-up” anybody, or skips the line. He is afraid of the deterrence effect of the American Justice system. This is not to compare Jamaica’s criminal justice system to America’s but rather to highlight deterrence’s positive influence on crime fighting and communities. Neither is it a promotion of police militaristic culture in
Jamaica. It is instead showing an indication that deterrence is a powerful tool in preventing criminal activity.

For garbage disposal, some city residents may resolve themselves or call the politicians, burn it or dump it themselves. However, the more significant responsibility is for the government to relieve city solid waste exposure.

In Kingston, waste piles up with no resolution in sight.; what are the other problems that are not being addressed? Are there other deeper issues left unattended? Garbage collection is critical.


I was curious about the issue and wanted to know how long it has persisted. I decided to see how many articles have been written about trash in 2022. There was a lot [and] it seems that the problem is ongoing.

It’s challenging to think it’s the people’s fault lack of garbage disposal. They just don’t have anywhere to put the garbage because their trash cannot remain indoors. Considering that the government may not care about the solid waste pile up across the city, what are the other issues they don’t care about? Are there increases in traffic accidents and violations? Are taxi drivers risking the lives of passengers without police intervention? How many unsolved crimes on the books? Does the police have legitimacy? Are there increases in school and domestic violence? Are there increases in serious crime by youth? Bribery? Scamming? Property crime? Larceny? Increases in murders, rape, robbery, and assault? Are illegal guns entering the country? How would you respond to those questions? Most crime categories have seen significant increases or are on the rise, and it seems not enough is done. People deserve to live in clean, crime-free neighbourhoods Have you spoken to your political leaders? Are they aware that the communities are unclean and unsafe?

The problem goes a little further than the community pile-up. There are more reasons for concern. Why else does Kingston have an excess trash problem? What else is going on? Who is responsible for solid waste disposal?

With so many articles about the problem of garbage disposal, one wonders about the level of importance the government places on the garbage disposal. The truth is, trash in Jamaica isn’t just what you can see at the side of the street: The problem goes a little further than the community pile-up. There are more reasons for concern. Why else does Kingston have an excess trash problem? What else is going on? Who is responsible for solid waste disposal?

According to the National Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), they ensure that waste is collected, stored, transported, recycled, reused, or disposed of in an environmentally sound manner and promote safety standards in Jamaica. The NSWMA aims to provide solid waste management services to safeguard public health while helping create a healthy and aesthetically pleasing environment for residents and visitors. Frankly, it should also read, “keeping the city clear of excess garbage also prevents crime”, but I understand it’s an indirect effect. Let’s put crime aside for a minute.

More Garbage!

The Attorney General’s reports say that Jamaica still uses dump sites and has no sanitary landfill. There were 30 dump sites in Jamaica in the past. However, many of them closed in the past 10 years. Riverton City dump is the largest, but it too has significant problems. Three of the waste disposal sites in Jamaica or operational; however, they need to comply with most of the permit standards and requirements. Eight waste-disposal sites in Jamaica are named in the auditor general’s report on the NSWMA. They are Riverton – KMA; Church Corner – Morant Bay; Doctor’s Wood – near Buff Bay; Frontier – near Port Maria; Haddon – near Walkerswood; Tobolski – near Brown’s Town; Retirement – Montego Bay; Friendship – near Santa Cruz; Martin’s Hill – north of Mandeville; and West Kirkvine.

Some problems that were identified included leaching (dissolution of metals, solids, and chemicals) of a toxic and hazardous substance into the ground and surface water bodies as the disposal sites are unlined. Further, the transmission of infections affects sorters and livestock that rummage through waste which often includes medical and hazardous waste. Additionally, uncontrolled burning occurs due to spontaneous combustion from solid wastes with low flashpoints or methane gas buildup. Lastly, odor vermin flies resulting from uncovered wastes.

Who wants to live with more vermin and flies?

Many of these problems are unknown to the general public, but do our leaders know? Jamaica has had its share of health and environmental concerns; the thousands of fish that perished in rivers, many babies who died from bacteria in hospitals, and breakouts of illnesses in schools.

Do the improper and inadequate handling of garbage disposal have anything to do with these health issues?

What caused the heightened crime? Why are the causes of unknown illnesses? Which are the priorities? Is crime a priority? What about our health? How do we solve the truck problems?

Here are some recommendations to consider:

  • Privatise garbage collection and dumping. Outsource garbage truck operations and allow them to charge some controlled communities’ subsidised and regulated fees for pickup.
  • Convert Riverton City dump into a sanitary landfill where waste is treated, monitored, and adequately layered to prevent unhealthy living and an unfit environment.
  • Government agencies should operate landfill to ensure proper monitoring and lawful treatment.
  • Provide proper public dumps scheduled weekly cleaning.
  • Plan for converting other dumps to make additional landfills and secure them with proper monitoring and layering.
  • Review and evaluate crime deterrence policies. Measure their efficiency and effectiveness. Then intervene with workable and sustainable programs where necessary.
  • Move to action on the recommendations of the Attorney General’s report on the garbage and dump sites.

With so much trash all over, I am still trying to find out weh de dumpa truck dem deh.

Leo Gilling is chairman of the Jamaica Diaspora Taskforce Action NetworkSend feedback to editorial@our.today


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