One year later: Organizers reflect on BIG GARBAGE CLEAN UP Campaign

Saturday, November 16th, 2019

It has been one year since the San Pedro Chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (SP BTIA) along with the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES) and the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) organized the biggest clean-up campaign on the island to date. Held from November 9 to 12, 2018, the clean-up campaign aimed to raise awareness on the improper garbage disposal on Ambergris Caye.

Current Garbage Situation

Illegal dumping and improper garbage disposal have long been an issue on the island resulting in street sides littered with large items such as appliances and old furniture. This has led to the pollution of our water system, threatening the health of our environment and marine life. The goal of the SP BTIA and ACES’ four-day clean-up campaign was to pick up garbage from multiple locations in various neighborhoods, but due to the massive amounts of trash located in one area, the San Pedrito Highway, efforts focused on clearing that road of all trash. Throughout the four days, there was an army of seriously dedicated and hardworking people, along with multiple golf carts, trucks, trailers, backhoes and bulldozers, who pulled tons of trash from the San Pedrito Highway. Despite the combined efforts, tons of garbage remain along the road. Over four days, more than 150 volunteers collected more than 900 bags of trash and 744 square yards of garbage with 151 vehicle/truckloads delivering to the Transfer Station, located south of Ambergris Caye.
ACES Field Biologists Chris Summers shared with The San Pedro Sun that despite the effort, improper garbage disposal remains an issue on the island although he saw an improvement after the massive clean-up a year ago. “It may seem like there hasn’t been much improvement, but that road is nowhere near as bad as it was, which is a positive thing. It seems that nowhere near as many people are dumping there as they were before. In fact, a few weeks after the clean-up, a group of people in a pick-up truck full of trash waved me down on the road to ask where the transfer station is because “they didn’t want to dump on that road anymore” which was amazing! The garbage problem is, unfortunately, a multi-leveled problem with no easy solution. We just have to keep working as a community tackling one problem at a time until this is solved,” said Summers.

Current Garbage Situation

At the time of the clean-up, Mayor Daniel Guerrero promised to put up signs and fine people for illegal dumping of garbage. However, to date, there is no proof that anyone has been fined for illegal dumping on the island. The San Pedro Sun further tried to reach Mayor Guerrero to confirm this, but he was not available for comment.
According to SP BTIA Chairwoman Tamara Sniffin, the garbage issue remains a huge problem on the island, and although some progress has been made, the battle can be disheartening. “One year ago, our Big Garbage Clean-up Campaign was intended to not only remove garbage from identified locations but to raise awareness of the issue. The effort was in partnership with the San Pedro Town Council who promised, that if we [SP BTIA] did our part, they would do theirs, meaning NO DUMPING signs posted in key areas and fines issued to those illegally dumping. We met with the Mayor after the campaign to assure his support, but to date, nothing has happened. Ticket books were to be ordered, but as far as I know, not one ticket for illegal dumping has been issued, and I believe only one NO DUMPING sign was posted at the San Pedrito Highway area. Since the clean-up campaign, our members have sponsored weekly ads in The San Pedro Sun to raise awareness, distributed small garbage pails with our Keep it Clean Mascot “Captain Conch” decal on it, and painted fence signs with anti-littering messages. All we ask is that Town Council keeps their part of our agreement with posting NO DUMPING signs and issuing fines for illegal dumping,” Sniffin commented.

Current Garbage Situation

By law, summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 98 Revised Edition 2003 states that littering is an offense, and any person who commits a littering offense may be issued with a violation ticket by an authorized officer. An authorized officer may if he sees a person committing a littering offense, issue him with a violation ticket either at the same time, the offense is committed or within 48 hours thereafter. Any person who refuses to receive the violation ticket from an authorized officer, or refuses to give his name and address, shall be guilty of an offense and shall be liable to the same penalties as if he had committed a Littering offense.
All persons who are authorized to issue violation tickets under sub-regulation shall forward a copy of the violation ticket to the Commissioner of Police and on the first day of every month, account for all violation tickets issued during the preceding month, to the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry for the time being responsible for the Environment. The Permanent Secretary to the Ministry for the time being responsible for the Environment shall be responsible for the printing, supply, and distribution of all violation tickets necessary for the effective functioning of these Regulations.

File Photos of San Pedro’s Largest Cleanup Campaign

Every person who is issued with a violation ticket shall pay a fine of 100 dollars, and where a violation ticket is issued to a body corporate or an unincorporated body, that body shall pay a fine of 500 dollars, which amount shall be clearly stated on the face of the violation ticket. The fine stated on the violation ticket shall be paid within 15 calendar days of the date of issue of the ticket, failing which the fine shall be increased at the rate of $10 for every day the fine remains unpaid in the case of a natural person, and $50 for every day the fine remains unpaid, in the case of a body corporate or an unincorporated body. All such fines and penalties as aforesaid shall be used for keeping public roads and public places clean and for preventing the defilement thereof by litter.
If the fine stated on the violation ticket remains unpaid for a period of 30 calendar days from the date of issue of the ticket, and no Court hearing has been requested by the violator he/she may be summoned to appear in court to answer the littering offense alleged to have been committed by him/her.
Persons authorized to issue violation tickets include members of the Belize Police Department, Transport officers appointed under the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act; Health Officers appointed under the Public Health Act, Justices of the Peace, Administrators to City Councils or Town Councils, bus conductors or any other person whom the Minister may in his discretion appoint for issuing violation tickets, Environmental Officers of the Department of the Environment, persons authorized by City Councils or Town Councils and any person whom the Minister may in his discretion appoint.

File Photos of San Pedro’s Largest Cleanup Campaign

In addition, according to the Hazardous Waste Regulations under the Laws of Belize, the Department of the Environment (DOE) is the only authority to designate areas which are to be used for dump sites. While DOE designates the areas, the San Pedro Town Council is responsible for monitoring the areas so that they don’t threaten the lives and health of residents. The Hazardous Waste Regulations was developed in the light of concerns arising from the in-country and trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes. These Regulations was passed in August 2009 to address the overall management of hazardous wastes including storage, transportation, treatment and prohibitions. Illegal Dumping occurs when generated waste is disposed at any given location without being granted legal permission. Garbage is currently being disposed of at illegal dumps that are inappropriately situated throughout the country, in backyards or by illegally dumping along roadsides, empty lots, seashores, riverbanks and other environmentally sensitive areas. A common practice throughout the country is the use of garbage as landfill in low laying areas or lots. In San Pedro Town, areas like San Mateo, San Pedrito, DFC Sub-Division, and Eiley Sub-Division among others were formed by using massive amounts of toxic garbage as landfill, a practice Area Representative of Belize Rural South Manuel Heredia Jr has gone on record approving of and Mayor Guerrero claiming, “this is how we have always filled land on the island.”

File Photos of San Pedro’s Largest Cleanup Campaign

In 1996 the Environmental Act was revised, and this practice was deemed illegal, stating, “It is illegal to dump solid waste such as trash, garbage, appliances, furniture, pallets, yard waste, tires and any type of construction and demolition material such as roofing materials, structural lumber, windows and doors.”
Not only do these illegal dump sites cause a heightened risk of physical injury from contact with broken glass, sharp metal and other waste trash but garbage brings with it a host of diseases and dangers. The ideal milieu for rats, mice and other rodents, ticks, flies and mosquitoes which in many cases transmit diseases to human beings. Also, disease-causing bacteria can contaminate drinking water supplies and be transported by flies, rodents and dogs. Improperly disposed-of solid waste, which includes everything from bottles to plastics, appliances, oil drums and aluminum cans, may be a direct source of disease as organic material can pollute surface and ground waters that are used as drinking supplies, as well as spread disease through rats, mice and flies. The degradation of these materials into the environment also contaminates natural water systems which ultimately end up in the sea, jeopardizing the health of the mangrove forests and the nearby reef.
Island residents are asked to be vigilant and if they see anyone dumping garbage, to take photographs or report them to the relevant authorities. Keep in mind the protection of the environment is everyone’s responsibility as we all depend on it.

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