A. Litter problem in Fiji: an outline
Increased material consumption has accompanied economic growth. Much of the increased value added in consumption takes the form of packaging. If that packaging is not disposed of properly it becomes litter, bringing with it public health and public amenity costs. The urban areas of Fiji have been facing a serious litter problem for some time, which has been recognized by national and local government authorities. Numerous attempts have been made to overcome the problem, but with limited success.
Part of the problem lies with the low level of public awareness of litter as a problem. The public generally chooses to ignore its responsibility for keeping public areas clean and visually attractive. It is common to see people dropping litter wherever and whenever they like, even when rubbish bins are nearby. The problem is a common theme in letters to the editors in the local newspapers. Samples of such letters from the past few months are presented below:
Littering of Suva's scenic foreshore by picnickers is a particular problem as described by a recent article in the Fiji Times (Kamea, J., 'On the water front', 29 February 1996):
"After the last of the food was stuffed into their mouths, some stood straight up and left the area, leaving behind their ugly mess of scattered garbage. Winds blowing from the sea then took over the task of dispersing the rubbish and spreading it over a larger area....Littered with discarded food, plastic, empty cans, bottles and metal scrap such as bicycle parts and bits of corrugated iron. Children were seen swimming in waters amid bits of bamboo, plastic, paper and bottles. The movements of the waves had created a bank from the trash and the swimming children would perch upon the heap unaware that one slip of the foot and they could be seriously injured by bits of metal and the sharp bamboo edges. Just above their heads, broken beer bottles poked through a crevasse in the sea wall. The seriousness of the situation was lost on their innocence. Yet the dangers also seemed lost on the parents who were watching from the seawall where they were throwing refuse into the ocean themselves."
Litter is routinely thrown onto the foreshore and into rivers and mangroves as a concerned citizen vividly describes in the 'Letters to the editor' column of The Fiji Times (Maharaj, A., 'Litter bug', 7 March 1997):
"This person stopped his car at the seawall to dump plastic bags of rubbish into the sea. Not 10 yards in either direction were empty rubbish bins. I stopped my car and watched him do all this. I was going to say something to him but he looked rather aggressive and I am rather small. But if the police want to prosecute this filthy man, then I should be happy to witness against his disgusting antisocial behaviour in court ."
On the same theme, a Suva reader wrote to The Fiji Times (Hill, R., 'Rubbish skip', 19 June 1997):
"I too would like to thank whoever is responsible for the placement of the rubbish skip near the bridge at Laucala Beach Estate. I was horrified, however, to watch a lady park her car a few metres away from the skip, walk to the bridge, look furtively around to see that nobody was watching (I was), then proceed to throw her plastic bags of rubbish over the bridge into the canal. This happened at 9 a.m. on Friday and I have noted the car's number plate. Please keep Fiji pollution-free."
"He gathered the rubbish into neat piles so that he could easily put it in his wheelbarrow for easy transport, or so it seemed. But instead, he used his rake to sweep the trash unabashedly into the sea. Each ebb of the rolling waves took the rubbish further out to sea."
Although the disposal of waste into the sea may be a perfectly effective method of dealing with small volumes of decomposable waste in a traditional village situation, it is not suitable for modern garbage, with its high quantities of metal, plastic and glass. Research undertaken by SPACHEE indicated that litter dumping along coastal areas around Suva was increasing. The study also found that most of the litter was derived from manufacturers and business houses.
After public events such as the Suva Hibiscus Carnival or sporting events at the National Stadium, litter dumping is at its peak. Through experience, SCC health inspectors have learned that the peak hours of litter disposal are early in the mornings and late in the evenings.
Beyond the specific problem of litter is the more general problem of refuse disposal for which SCC is responsible. Currently, the Suva refuse dump, located on the harbour shore in a reclaimed mangrove swamp, remains the subject of a long-standing controversy. All the parties concerned have agreed for some time that the dump must be moved for environmental reasons. However, finding of an alternative acceptable site remains elusive. The dumping of derelict vehicles outside the Suva City boundaries has also been identified as a particular problem.
SCC runs an efficient collection service within the city boundaries. However, there are no enforced rules on the garbage receptacles used by households. Many, even in the higher income areas, use plastic bags and cartons which are often damaged by scavenging dogs, thus further compounding the litter problem. From time to time, attempts have been made to prosecute people for using plastic bags as garbage receptacles. This, however, has been ineffective, and at times has led to hostile public reaction. That problem was highlighted by a letter to the editor which was published in The Fiji Times (Flier, L., 'Grocery bags', 18 June 1997):
"You reported last week that a number of people who appeared in court under Fiji's new litter law had been charged with leaving grocery bags by the side of the road. Did the law catch these sinister characters surreptitiously slipping bags of rubbish out of their cars in the dead of night? Not at all. In actuality, city council employees have been cruising the suburbs early in the morning looking for residents who put their rubbish out for collection in plastic bags. They then charged these individuals with 'littering'. The irony of catching someone in the act of being tidy and then charging him with littering apparently escapes our esteemed councillors. It becomes necessary, then, to put their rubbish out in plastic bags:
Surely, common sense will ride to the rescue. Setting out rubbish for collection is not littering unless the rubbish gets scattered around. If there is a genuine problem with dogs or with the wind, let the council work with the neighbours to find a solution. A cooperative approach will build goodwill and community strength. But sending out the rubbish police to randomly enforce a harsh law only builds cynicism."
Refuse disposal from the main public hospital in Fiji, the Colonial War Memorial Hospital is reported to be a major environmental health problem. SCC workers have complained that garbage they have collected from the hospital has contained contaminated parcels of hospital and surgical waste, surgical utensils and syringes. The local press has reported a number of incidents in recent years. In one case The Fiji Times reported that "an employee pricked his finger on a syringe in one of the hospital's garbage bags. Four days later his finger had swollen. He had to receive medical treatment". In another case reported by The Fiji Times, an employee could not work for a week as his face was covered with a rash and scabies as a result of a close contact with contaminated hospital waste. According to the General Secretary of the Fiji Council of Municipal Employees, hospital refuse should be incinerated rather than left on the roadside to be collected.