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Flashback September 2020: The Beetham landfill provides employment for many in and around the area. In this Kerwin Pierre image, waste pickers get down to the business of sorting and recycling.

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales yesterday described the $100 million Government spends on waste collection as ridiculous and scandalous, stating T&T needs to urgently convert waste into energy to provide revenue streams for the country.

Gonzales was speaking to Guardian Media yesterday following the launch of the Empowering Sustainable Communities programme at the Trestrail Lands Housing Development in D’Abadie.

The programme, an initiative of the Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL), was aimed at developing partnerships with communities to care for the environment.

Delivering the feature address to a small group of attendees which included SWMCOL’s chairman Ronald Milford and its CEO Kevin Thompson, Gonzales expressed concerns that our landfills at Forres Park, Beetham and Guanapo are near their capacity.

“Do we look for more land to construct more dumps? We are producing 700,000 tonnes of garbage on a yearly basis. Recycling is no longer a sexy conversation anymore. It is something that is necessary for our own survival.”

He said we only recycle ten per cent of our waste which was unacceptable.

“T&T is the only place in the world where waste collection costs the people of this country over $100 million on an annual basis. In any real country, waste collection is an income earner…a revenue earner. In any real country that cares about its environment and cares about government policy and trying to create this circular economy, the waste sector is a sector that attracts revenue for the state coffers.”

The $100 million, Gonzales said, is spent on dump and garbage trucks and private contractors to collect garbage from communities.

“So, in the post-COVID economy, and as long as I am Minister of Public Utilities SWMCOL should be in a state…and should prepare itself for it to be a contributor to Government revenue and no longer be a liability on the books of the Ministry of Finance.”

Gonzales issued a warning to SWMCOL’s management that once T&T recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, “it is not going to be business as usual.”

He said SWMCOL must play a leading role in the management of the waste sector.

“SWMCOL has to produce activities and programmes to be able to monetise the way in which we manage our waste.”

Very soon, Gonzales said SWMCOL will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Gas Company to convert waste into methane.

“Our landfills have the capacity to produce methane gas and by so doing it reduces our greenhouse gas emissions. It also brings the country closer to its compliance with the Paris accord.”

He said our landfill can be utilised to generate electricity.

“It can contribute to the electricity grid,” he told the gathering.

Asked by Guardian Media following the function if the $100 million Government spends annually was way too high, Gonzales replied “that figure is ridiculous in my view…I think it is scandalous.”

As the landfills reach their threshold Gonzales said SWMCOL has to move forward with its recycling programme.

“We have to look at ways to reduce our waste going into our landfills. We have to look seriously at the construction of an engineered landfill in the Fores Park area. That has been on the cards for years.”

He said such a landfill would extract different types of waste.

“You need a separation process. The talk and the analysis paralysis as we often say in the Government has to come to an end because we are in a crisis now with the management of our landfills.”

He said SWMCOL would also have to be restructured so it can take the country towards an integrated waste management system.