Using Monrovia ’s Garbage Disposals As a Revenue Source
Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D, February 17th 2005
I am of the opinion that the upcoming election is the least of our worries. As long as inequality exists in housing, employment, political, spiritual, economic, health, social, psychological or philosophical domains in Liberia , no Liberian should be satisfied until every citizen can live in peace and enjoy the fruits of his and her labors. Self-help, self-respect, self-sufficiency and self-love which equals to true patriotism or love of our country should inspire all of us to serve in the best interest of the Liberian nation and people...
One of the most vexing problems facing post-conflict Liberia is garbage collection. Huge garbage deposits and other wastes are clustering the streets and alleys of Monrovia and its environs every day. Most often, piles of garbage and human wastes are directly discharged into the streets of Monrovia or in runoff streams, rivers, and storm drains due to the lack of adequate public latrines and dumpsites in the city. As a result, Monrovia has become an unwilling incubator for the preservation of rottens, mosquitoes, and other pesticides that pose serious health hazards to the people of the city. The population of Monrovia has swelled from a few thousand people in the late Eighties to nearly 1.8 million people at present as a result of the 14-year civil war in the country. It is said that Monrovia residents now generate up to 1.3 million kilograms of garbage on average daily, in addition to wastes from fractured septic tanks and private latrines flowing into the streets of Monrovia on a regular basis. “This is terrible. It seems to me that there is a spirit of 'I don't care' among the local population, with little or no sense of pride and values. Why can't they think about the saying, Cleanliness is next to godliness'?” The Perspective’s Abdulaye Dukule quoted one of the international peacekeepers stationed in Monrovia as asking in his 2004 article, “ After Peace - Household Waste, Shrapnel, and Carcasses.”
Like the peacekeeper, I was alarmed at the level of garbage disposals and human wastes floating in the streets of Monrovia during my visit to the city in 2004. I cannot imagine the potential health implications these wastes might have on the already overcrowded population of Monrovia if no concrete actions are taken to improve the sanitary conditions in the city. However, since the garbage problem might not go away anytime soon due to prevailing socio-economic and political problems in the country, it might be necessary for the city government and the national government to take concrete steps to alleviate the garbage collection problem in Monrovia by seeking to convert the huge garbage disposals and other wastes into methane or natural gas.
Methane which is a colorless, odorless flammable gas used as a fuel ( natural gas) is generated mostly by manipulating garbage and human and industrial wastes. Monrovia stands to benefit a great deal from current and future stockpiles of garbage and other wastes by launching a comprehensive garbage collection, recycling, and maintenance program similar to that of Denmark in the 1970s. Prior to 1971, the Danish City of Copenhagen faced similar garbage disposal problems as Monrovia so the Danish government set up a ministry of the environment, the first in the world, to handle the growing problem. A comprehensive garbage collection and maintenance program was subsequently launched, which drastically reduced Copenhagen ’s garbage problems. Under the program, Denmark recycled 58 percent of the city's household, commercial, demolition, and industrial wastes, while 24 percent of the garbage was incinerated, and 18 percent deposited in a landfill. In addition, usable landfills were reduced from 30 to 3 in a short time frame, while 50,000 tons of combustible wastes, deposited in landfills prior to the comprehensive programs were incinerated in plants that convert waste to energy. (http://www.learner.org/exhibits/garbage/global.html). The net results of the Danish program did not only better control the garbage program but created new sources of energy and revenue through natural gas production. Liberia can learn from the Danish model.
Types of Wastes in Monrovia
The components of garbage in Liberia are the same as the ones in other nations. Most of the garbage in Monrovia consists of plastic and paper used for wrapping and packing purposes, in addition to the solid wastes from hospitals known as medical wastes. The solid wastes found in Monrovia generally include substances such as aluminum, glass and construction wastes. However, to avoid any misunderstanding about what is meant by garbage or solid wastes, it might be necessary to establish that garbage (or solid wastes) refers to the following categories of wastes:
- Medical Wastes---garbage from medical laboratories, hospitals, and private clinics in Monrovia . The refuse contains used syringes, tubes, and containers. Such wastes can transmit blood-borne diseases to Liberians
- Trash —waste accumulation of paper, cardboard, old clothing, shoes, sweepings, dust, rags, bottles, cans or other matter of any kind, other than garbage, which come from running business in Monrovia
- Construction Wastes—disposable m aterials from building or repairing houses in Monrovia such as lumbers, roofing materials, bricks, zinc, nails, concrete blocks, plasters, gutters, sands, gravels or other substances used in repairs or alterations of existing buildings or construction of new buildings, or results from breaking down of existing buildings
- Garbage—s poiled food wastes, agricultural wastes, by-product of animal or vegetable food items resulting from the handling, preparation, cooking and eating of food, or other matters subject to decomposition, decay, or the generation of noxious or offensive gases or odors, or which during or after decay, may serve as breeding or feeding material for flies, birds, insects, or animals
In their book, Managing Hazardous Materials, (2002) Jack Leonard and Gary Robinson make the argument that “ A hazardous material is any item or agent (biological, chemical, physical) which has the potential to cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment, either by itself or through interaction with other factors.” Besides, u nmanaged waste degrades the urban ambient, impeding efforts to keep streets, highways and open spaces in a hygienic and pleasant condition. An effective and efficient garbage management reflects a municipal administration concern for public safety and health. In recycling, the cycle is not only closed loop but waste materials are reprocessed into new products, and no virgin materials must be extracted from our environment. Thus, there are countless reasons why recycling is an environmental imperative for every modern nation. Liberia , like any other nation of our modern world, needs to recycle its garbage and other wastes in order to protect the health of its citizens. We need to protect our environment in Liberia , preserve our natural and human resources, and best of all, use of garbage as a new source of energy generation. Evidence abounds that solid wastes and sanitation can have a significant impact on the incidence of both mortality and morbidity associated with infectious water-borne diseases resulting from unhygienic stagnated water such as h uman itch mite ( scabies), malaria, cholera and hepatitis are easily contracted in a relative degraded ecosystem. So Liberia needs to act soon before it is too late.
With a little forethought, our nation could reuse or recycle more than 70 percent of the land filled wastes, which are likely to include valuable materials such as scrap metal, glass and paper. There are international markets for resource recovery to derive some economic benefit from these materials we Liberians regard as waste. Scrap metal and other materials recovered from the landfills could have economic benefit because some of these materials can be used to make manufacture plastic container, sneakers, bottles, and so forth. In addition, we could extract methane or natural gas from our large landfills and use the natural gas as fuels for cooking, heating, or electricity. And Liberia also has tons of tons of scrap metal, especially most of the imported metals and alloys, brass, aluminum cans, glass and other types of solid wastes. For example, United States Environmental Protection Agency just awarded the Electicore Consortium in the Green Island Alliance $30,00 “to organize a scrap metal recycling program in the Pacific” for transportation. ( www.recyclingtoday.com/news/news.asp) to the USA . Liberia could also benefit from such scrap metal initiatives.
But we need to act. The garbage problem in Monrovia can longer be settled by the use of d few wheelbarrows, shovels, and bulldozers, though this is not to suggest that Mayor Ophelia Hoff-Saytumah’s passionate public appeals for shovels, wheelbarrows, bulldozers, and associated cleaning equipment to keep the city tidy should not be heeded. I think the Mayor meant well by her appeals, given the limited resources of the city. But the garbage disposal problem in Monrovia demands a more radical effort than a shovel or bulldozer can accomplish. We need to set up a national urban waste management program that would convert garbage and waste disposals into natural gas for our economic and social benefits. So our national leaders must congregate the political will to take tangible actions in this direction, and stop paying lip-service to the growing sanitation problems in Monrovia and other parts of Liberia .
Keeping our nation healthy is a truly public and economic good. “…Urban wastes can also be seen as valuable resources—"urban gold" as more than one analyst has characterized trash. Urban wastes contain valuable materials such as aluminum and steel that can be recovered and sold to help defray the costs of waste collection and treatment. The vegetative portions of the waste stream can be broken down by microbial action, producing a medium BTU gas that can be used for household cooking, shaft-power production or electricity generation,” Dr. John Ashworth, Vice-President, Energy and Environmental Services of EcoGroup has observed.
The profitable nature of garbage is a growing worldwide phenomenon. For example, the United Nations Development Programme and the Danish International Development Assistance (DANIDA) collaborated in the construction of a $4 million waste-to-energy facility as well as urban waste treatment in Dar es Salaam , Tanzania in 1994. That project underscored the global interest in the extraction of methane for natural gas, and in responding to global warming, since methane is said to be a major contributor to global climate change. For the most, the Tanzania project is intended to help decrease greenhouse emissions by replacing methane from anaerobic digestion for fossil fuels in the manufacturing of electricity under the umbrella of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). (www.winrock.org/reep/Publications/mswrpt/MSW2.html).
Denmark and Tanzania are not the only nations pursuing this national endeavor. “Landfill gas utilization has become a commercial source of energy in United States , England , and to a lesser extent in other major industrial countries in the past two decades. ” (www.winrock.org/reep/Publication/mswrp/msw2.htm). The South American nation of Brazil that was once in peril for its garbage problem has reversed the trends with a: “Can-Do Tack On Recycling” attitude. Brazilian solution to recycling “without taxes or subsidies” nets about $110 million annually and employs about 150,000 workers (www.mindfully.org/Sustainability/Brazil-Recycling-80Percent-AL.htm). Pakistan is on the bandwagon. In recent years Pakistan has taken steps to curve dependency on foreign energy source by tapping into methane gas through the nation’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources. As of this writing, an estimated 130 new compressed natural gas stations have been built around Pakistan . (www.dailytimes.com.)
Garbage collection and disposal have been a serious concern for society ever since when the curtain first rises on the stage of history . Humans have tried over the years to distance the gap between trash and human society without much success. Around 500BC, the first municipal dump was established in Athens , Greece on a common desire to separate garbage from immediate human environment. In ancient China , it was said that agriculturists took the disposal of human waste or garbage to another level by employing human manure and urine ("nightsoil") for fertilizer in Tai Lake Region. For the record, nightsoil preceded the concentrated deployment of synthetic fertilizers, as it was an integral part of fertilizer for nearly all crops, including rice and wheat. (www.agroecology.org/cases/nightsoil.htm).
What Can We Do Now
Liberian should act now by learning from the examples of Denmark , China , Tanzania , and the other nations by establishing an effective urban waste management program in Liberia . Liberia has just emerged from 14 years of civil wars with about 87% of its citizen’s unemployed, thousands of able-bodied men and women are roaming the streets everyday with nothing meaningful to do. These groups of Liberians could be put to work immediately as garbage collectors and maintenance officers. With the levels of garbage and other wastes generated in Monrovia and other cities regularly, Liberians might be sitting on a “goldmine” without knowing it. For example, if imported rice and other food stuffs from China and other countries are grown with “nightsoil,” and garbage can be used to generate cooking gas, electricity and other energy sources, I do no see why Liberians cannot begin to tap into these revenue resources. Tapping into these kinds of resources will create jobs and at the same time protect our environment. For the most part, e nergy is the life-blood of our nation. It is the bastion of our standard of living, economy, and national security. Petroleum imports already supply more than 98% percent of Liberia domestic needs, and those imports are expected to paralyzing increase. Our growing dependence on foreign sources of energy threatens our national security and prestige. As a nation, we must work to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy in a manner that is affordable and preserves environmental quality. Clean forms of methane is needed to support sustainable economic growth while mitigating impacts on air quality and the potential effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
Accordingly, the production of methane gas for energy use in Liberia does not have to be limited to the construction of new landfill only. Our nation is already sitting on “goldmine,” in the sense that old landfills in Gardnerville, Faimah, and other places are ripe for “harvesting.” Converting these fermentable organics in the waste to landfill gas and coal mining to increase the supply of natural gas is becoming global alternative to cheaper fuel. So with the right political will Liberia must establish sanitary landfills or develop several major landfill gas operations throughout the country. It is also possible that such a national investment will offset the costs of gasoline and provide a substantial income source, provided that a commercial outlet for the natural gas generated can be found. At present, many private companies in the United States have developed distribution systems for gathering, upgrading, and distribution of natural gas, and sometimes pay royalty to the cities where the natural gas is extracted. Liberia needs to act to establish garbage control program at the dawn of the 4th republic because the success of such a program is bound to reduce landfills, produce needed energy, and generate revenue that our nation can get from the sales of energy from recycled materials, which can be used to buy all the equipment the nation might need to put her people to work.
There is a need for an effective and efficient recycling and garbage collection system in Monrovia . The City should be divided into several quadrants or “drop-off centers” or garbage disposal stations for people to deposit their recyclables. In addition, Roll -off Containers should be deployed in strategic locations in the city for the collection of garbage, refuse trash and litter. A well-trained staff should be maintained and supplied with the right equipment at all times to management the urban waste program.
Liberia must have the political will to invite and sign contracts with international companies to use our garbage and produce national gas of local consumption. If we can encourage people from around the world to come to invest in this project it will be good for the nation’s economy. Nevertheless, the following prerequisites must be met to ensure successful implementation of the program:
- Research the Fiamah and Gardnerville Landfills or establish three major landfills that would have sufficient garbage volume and depth to enable the landfill gas recovery development meaningful
- Proper garbage disposal and dumping grounds management
- Formation of quadrants or community committees for solid waste disposal management through city ordinance
- Contact and provide incentive (t axes, duties and import restrictions should also be considered) for international companies and developers, in conjunction with the Liberian Electricity Corporation, the Ministry of Public Works that collect the waste, to sell the gas to a utility or private firm or to generate electricity under long-term rates that allow for a recovery of the capital investment, operating expenses, and profit margin
- Launch a recycling equipment importation tax credit program
- Begin developing local market for natural gas at an affordable prices that will satisfy both the investors and the Liberian consumers
- Conduct Pilot Programs: implement new program in stages throughout the 15 political subdivisions
I am of the opinion that the upcoming election is the least of our worries. As long as inequality exists in housing, employment, political, spiritual, economic, health, social, psychological or philosophical domains in Liberia , no Liberian should be satisfied until every citizen can live in peace and enjoy the fruits of his and her labors. Self-help, self-respect, self-sufficiency and self-love which equals to true patriotism or love of our country should inspire all of us to serve in the best interest of the Liberian nation and people. We can shape the path of stability in Liberia than anyone foreign form of election and peace keepers can bring.
Even in the presence of 18, 000 foreign troops stationed in our nation we still do no not have any concrete plans at hand for the future growth and development of Liberia . Our s ocio-economic, cultural, political priorities are still scattered, while a national health hazard looms with stockpiles of garbage and other wastes in Monrovia . We need to act. We need a sanitation revolution to control human wastes and garbage in our cities. We need to invite international companies to construct facilities for proper disposal of the refuse so as to produce methane gas and provide employment for our citizens. The Monrovia City Corporations cannot handle the volume of garbage and wastes in the streets. We all need to join in and help.
Articles by Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D.
About Dr. Somah:
Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health at NC A&T State University in Greensboro , North Carolina . He is author of: The Historical Resettlement of Liberia and Its Environmental Impact, Christianity, Colonization and State of African Spirituality, and Nyanyan Gohn-Manan: History, Migration & Government of the Bassa (a book about traditional Bassa leadership and cultural norms published in 2003). Somah is also the Executive Director of the Liberian History, Education & Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), a nonprofit organization based in Greensboro, North Carolina . He can be reached at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org