Sustainability and safety – musts for Recycling Centre

What seemed to start out as a waste transfer station at Vaucluse in St Thomas, set up to feed the land fill at Greenland, has now become the Sustainable Barbados Recycling Centre Inc which was opened in early June this year. According to media reports, the Centre includes a transfer station, materials recovery and composting facilities as well as a chemical waste storage plant, and is set to become the new solid waste management nucleus for Barbados.

Minister Lowe, at the opening of the Centre is quoted as saying “ it is envisaged that the full operation of this entity will be of great assistance to the island by allowing for approximately 65% of the entire waste stream to be diverted away from land filling and allow for the recovery of significant volumes of valuable recyclables such as paper, plastic and metal, and the production of other materials, including compost, aggregates and mulch which would be most welcomed by those with a strong interest in agricultural and horticultural production.” We agree that with the declining yields in sugar cane and other crops, and the results of trials with compost in sugar cane which indicate significant yield increases with compost application , the news of this facility should be music to the ears of the farming community.

On the other hand, the powers that be must ensure that there is proper planning and regulation and that the processes undertaken at the Recycling Centre are conducted in a safe, sustainable manner so that the facility, having consumed considerable investment, does not go the way of the Pulverization Plant at Middleton, St George, and the Greenland landfill in St Andrew.

It would appear that the activities at the facility will not be limited to production of compost, mulch and other organic horticultural materials and chemical storage , but will also include a waste to energy component. At the opening function, Minister Lowe is reported to have stated that solid waste is now considered a valuable resource, from which energy can be recovered……..and went on to state “ the inclusion of the waste to energy facility, which will consist of a state-of-the-art incineration facility and a landfill gas to energy component will not only allow for solid waste to be utilized as the resource for the generation of electricity, but will have the potential to further increase the percentage of landfill diversion.” He went on to give the assurance that a thorough environmental impact assessment had been conducted to ensure all environmental parameters and concerns are comprehensively addressed prior to their establishment.” It would be interesting to know whether a similar assessment was done for the composting process and if all assessment reports have (or will be) made available to the public.

In view of recent concerns expressed by researchers appearing in the Sunday Telegraph and Daily Mail newspapers in the UK regarding the release of bioaerosols by composting facilities there, local officials would be well advised to take a “prevention” rather than “cure” approach to the matter and put policies and regulations in place, including regular testing of the air quality in the area and thus foster the confidence of the public. According to the Association for Organics Recycling (www.organics-recycling.org.uk) the recycling sector in the UK is very heavily regulated by both the Environment Agency and Animal Health (a division of The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). The Environment Agency will not approve the development unless the risk assessment shows that people will not be put at undue risk from the proposed new facility and it is likely that regular monitoring of bioaerosols at the site will become a mandatory requirement within the permit. Although bioaerosols are always present in the atmosphere, especially in areas of dense vegetation where natural composting is continually taking place, their concentration is obviously higher where there are large quantities of composting materials concentrated in a restricted area.

Apparently knowledge gaps currently exist in the scientific and regulatory community that limit our ability to accurately model the dispersion of bioaerosols. The local technocrats should therefore ensure that that they keep up to date with the latest research findings and that regulations are informed by these findings.

We note that at the local facility, the compost is produced in the outdoors rather than under cover and wonder whether this situation is optimal, particularly in the wet season where heavy downpours will probably create conditions which would increase noxious odours as well as the attraction of rodents and other vermin on site. Additionally, it would be expected that nutrients would be leached from the compost under these conditions. In the UK compost has to comply with certain standards. This should also apply here.

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