IN 1982 Mr Sameer Younis, of blessed memory, spearheaded a campaign to keep the capital city clean.
The 'Clean as a Whistle' campaign, as it was named, inspired the formation of Metropolitan Parks and Markets and later the promulgation of the Anti-Litter Act.
Just over two decades later when Jamaica Observer founding editor Mr Desmond Allen chronicled the life of Mr Younis, the businessman recalled that the campaign was heralded by a massive public education programme to stimulate civic pride. Indeed, Mr Younis was of the opinion that it was the best public education campaign in the country up to that point.
People, Mr Younis recalled, were openly rebuking each other for littering. Some 3,000 garbage bins were placed on city streets. There was a programme for cars and buses, schools and workplaces.
Since then, innumerable campaigns have been implemented to keep the country clean. The task is not easy as the entities responsible for solid waste collection and management are facing the nasty practices of too many of our people — a problem made worse by the fact that the police have been negligent in enforcing the anti-litter law which, we must admit, is not supported by strong enough sanctions to deter people from disposing of waste wherever they please.
The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) has, over the years, spent millions of dollars dealing with this problem. We recall the Auditor General's Department reporting last year that over the period 2016-17 to 2020-21, approximately $32 billion was allocated for solid waste management, with more than half disbursed from property tax collections.
Solid waste management is by no means inexpensive. Indeed, we remember well a report submitted by the World Bank's Urban Development Department in 2017 estimating that the volume of municipal solid waste will rise from 1.3 billion tonnes per year at that time to 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025. Much of the increase, the World Bank pointed out, will come in rapidly growing cities in developing countries.
The report also told us that the annual, global cost of "this necessary solid waste management" is projected to rise from US$205 billion to US$375 billion, "with the cost increasing most severely for those cities in low-income countries".
Our reflection on this issue is influenced by a discussion that the NSWMA had last week with a number of entities in Kingston on a major waste-disposal initiative expected to improve the environment and promote civic duty.
As this newspaper reported, the initiative, called Klean Kingston, is being undertaken in collaboration with Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation and will entail a special day for intense clean-up activities. It is also a part of the NSWMA's 'Clean City' programme which is designed to target a backlog of garbage in town centres and business districts.
The initiative is to be commended and supported by an intense and sustained public education campaign in communities, schools, churches, and the media, with a strong focus on getting Jamaicans to appreciate the value to public health of reducing and managing waste.
This should be accompanied by strict enforcement of the legislation, which needs amendment to ensure that the sanctions for breaches serve as a real deterrent.