Since 2009, Belize City residents have been regularly plagued by putrid odors due to recurring combustions leading to uncontrollable fires at the Mile 3 dumpsite which posed major health hazards to the people in the general vicinity.
Today the same facility has transformed into a transfer station where the garbage produced in the city’s homes, factories, business places, etc. will be collected and sorted before being transported to the central dumpsite located at Mile 24 on the George Price Highway. The new waste management system was formally opened on Tuesday as a part of the national Solid Waste Management Project to promote public health and sound environmental practices.
Dion Leslie, the Belize City councilor responsible for sanitation, told LOVE FM’s Marion Ali about the key role of the Belize transfer station:
“It just usually would come and just be dumped over at a location and remain there in the open and now all of that will change; when the waste arrives here, it will come into the transfer station, it will be dumped on the tipping floor and will be sorted out and managed and then be moved into one of the trailers to be moved to its final place at Mile 24 on the George Price Highway. So, we won’t have that eye sore of just an open land fill with vultures and people going through the remains; now, everything will be managed and organized and kept within one facility. This is something that we have been speaking about for some time now when it comes to the municipal bond but we’re still in negotiations with the Solid Waste Management Authority and all interested stakeholders on how we would take that fee and how it would be translated into the maintenance and upkeep of the day to day running of the facility. It’s something that we are looking at; it will become a reality but we’re still in the stages of working out the kinks and see what would be the percentage that the Council would keep and what would be the percentage that would be given to this authority for the running of the facility.”
While CitCo still plans to introduce the proposed $10 garbage fee, the 600-square meter location has been revitalized and remodeled by the Solid Waste Management Authority. In an interview with Channel 7, Tyrone Chimilio, communications officer for the Solid Waste Management Authority, explained what will take place at the transfer station:
“What we have here is the Belize City transfer station, what happens when the trucks come in, the compartment truck is going to tip the load on the floor, and what will happen there, is that the informal workers within the station, they’re going to separate the waste into paper, plastics and whatever else that is there. The residual garbage that is there, we have what we call a front end loader. After the waste is sorted, we’ll come and pick up the residual garbage and it’s going to take it through the hopper; when it’s through the hopper, it goes into a forty-foot container trailer, and when that is full, that will be taken up to original sanitary land fill at Mile 24 on the George Price Highway.”
Chimilio also spoke about the role that the people normally known as “scavengers” will now play:
“The informal workers, we refer to them as scavengers — but they’re needed and what they will do, they will come in and when the waste is tipped on the floor, they’ll just separate the plastics, the organic matter, the papers and whatever else is hazardous waste material. They will have an actual job to go through the whole social security system and be covered so the project is beneficial. You can actually see the maturation of our waste management practices that we have here in Belize and this transfer station is the evidence of that.”
In the absence of this transfer station, garbage trucks would have to go all the way to the sanitary landfill at Mile 24 to discharge their load before returning to the city.
Gilroy Lewis, project director of the Solid Management Authority, thus told the media about the convenience of a transfer station such as this: “The trucks that collect the garbage in the city would come to the transfer station, enter the facility and dump their load on the tipping floor. Then they leave and go back to their collection route.”
He also explained the layout of the building: “The administrative building is equipped with reception area, staff offices, kitchenette, meeting room and bathroom facilities and this end of the administrative building, we have bathrooms facilities for field workers, male and female equipped with showers and lockers so that whenever they are finished working here at the transfer station, they could go into their facility and then take a shower, change up and go home.”
The company in charge of the daily operations is PASA Belize Limited, a collaborative enterprise that entered a contractual agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources to carry out the management of the transfer station. The company reportedly bid $9 million to design and build the entire station. They will oversee the informal workers as they sort the garbage into recyclables and non-recyclables.
Ariel Mitchell, representative for PASA Belize Limited, whose parent company is in Monterrey, Mexico explained that the company has a systematic way of dealing with refuse and those people whose livelihoods depend on it:
“It is PASA’s intention to provide these people with coveralls, gloves and masks, something that they don’t have right now. The administration building also has showering facilities that these people will be encouraged to use the sanitary facilities to bathe before and after they finish a day’s work. So, all attempts by PASA have been done to address the sanitary and hygienic working conditions of the persons right now sorting out garbage. We are not going to hire, we are just going to give them an opportunity to sort out the garbage and to sell whatever they sort out either to us or they can sell it to the same people that they presently sell to.”
The estimated value of the completed works on the Belize City Transfer Station is US$1.4M. There are also transfer stations in San Pedro, Caye Caulker and San Ignacio; however, Belize City is by far the largest producer of garbage with its over 70,000 residents. All the garbage from each station is eventually transferred to the landfill at Mile 24 on the George Price Highway.