Time is running out: Majuro is facing a garbage crisis
The government of the Marshall Islands recently endorsed a comprehensive 10-year plan to address the solid-waste management crisis in the nation’s capital of Majuro. It comes at a critical time as the sole waste-disposal site on the atoll is quickly approaching the end of its service life.
Development of the plan was done by the Majuro Atoll Waste Company (MAWC) alongside experts from Japanese Technical Cooperation Project for the Promotion of Regional Initiatives on Solid Waste Management Strategy in Pacific Island Countries (J-PRISM II). The Solid Waste Management Plan for Majuro (SWMP-M) includes an initial five-year action plan, after which time a reassessment will be conducted.
The chief concern of creating a long-term solid waste management program is the establishment of a proper final disposal site. Census data from 2011 put the population density of Majuro at 7,413 people per sq. mi. Alongside commercial enterprises, this dense population generates an estimated 38.5 tons of waste per day, according to Jiba Kabua, public works minister and chairman of MAWC.
With an area of just 4 acres, the sole operating landfill at Batkan-Jable is unable to keep up with the demand and requires the operation of heavy equipment in order to pile the trash atop a heap that was 55 meters tall as of 2017. Nicknamed “Mt. Majuro,” it is an eyesore and a hazard. When heavy equipment breaks down, as it did in February, garbage creeps closer to obstructing Majuro’s main road.
To address this, the SWMP-M includes plans to conduct landfill mining operations in order to extract decomposed which will be used to extend the landfill operation site within the seawall, and allocation of resources for a new disposal site. A new dumpsite has already been approved for use by the RMI Environmental Protection Agency, but utilization has been delayed due to a lack of equipment.
In addition to improvements to the current waste-disposal facilities, the action plan identifies recycling and composting as critical to reducing the final amount of solid waste that is disposed of at the landfill site.
An analysis of the waste composition at the Batkan-Jable landfill conducted as part of the plan revealed that green waste accounts for roughly 30 percent of the material disposed of there. Construction of a new composting facility, called for by the action plan, has already begun at Laura village as of May 2019.
Disposable containers present another major opportunity for the reduction of waste disposal. While projections indicate that just 2 percent of the generated waste will be recycled under the Container Disposal Legislation system, which was introduced in August 2018, bottles and cans take up more volume by weight than many other types of waste. Export of disposable containers is also an option, although, currently, only aluminum is viable due to the high saturation of discarded plastic and glass in world markets.
While the MAWC currently provides regular waste collection for residents of the atoll free-of-charge, aging collection vehicles and the difficulty of acquiring replacement parts lead to frequent breakdowns and reduced efficiency. At the time the SWMP-M was drafted, the MAWC utilizing just two aging compactor trucks to collect garbage from the 27,000 residents of Majuro.
Due to unreliable waste collection, many households create backyard pits for disposal of waste, posing environmental and public health hazards.
The action plan’s main objective is the acquisition of newer collection vehicles and a reserve stock of interchangeable spare parts. It also calls for allocating resources toward part and vehicle replacement ahead of time.
Financial sustainability is another concern of the collections plan, with a long-term goal of a user-pays-system that would introduce collection fees, landfill tipping fees, or environmental levies for waste. MAWC had an average expenditure of $888,584 for fiscal years 2015-2018, part of which was funded by Compact funds from the U.S. government. The action plan itself has a price tag of approximately $9.2 million.
The plan does call for the consideration of future technology as an alternative to the traditional use of land reclamation for waste disposal on Majuro. However, it does include a plan for a specific implementation, given the high investment necessary for new intermediate technology, and rather calls for the monitoring of successful programs utilized by other small island nations.