THE recent fires at the Beetham landfill were a reminder of a time, not that long ago — May 2013 to be exact, when a heavy smog enveloped Port of Spain as a result of a fire at the landfill. It was suspected that people who burn materials to extract copper and other metals were behind the deep-seated fire which took the Fire Service days to contain. While an acre of the landfill burned, Port of Spain was blanketed in smoke and the smell of hazardous household, organic, industrial wastes and everything else in between was everywhere. Back then environmental activist Gary Aboud renewed his appeal for the landfill to be relocated. And since last week those calls as well as calls for a comprehensive recycling programme in T&T have been amplified.
“Ninety-five per cent of our waste goes to the Beetham, Forres Park and Guanapo landfills,” said Local Government Minister Surujrattan Rambachan. “Just imagine how much of that percentage we could reduce if we sorted our garbage and recycled.”
The Express went on a search to find people who have been able to significantly reduce their garbage through recycling, and caught up with Nicholas Roberts a retired contractor who grows his own vegetables and recycles glass, plastics, tin cans and organic waste religiously. Recycling is not just a way of life for him, he has also turned it into a business. For starters, Roberts recycles organic waste into compost — which he sells.
When the Express visited Roberts’ Valsayn home the first place he took us was to his backyard — there is where he first struck gold. We’re not talking about gold nuggets (although Roberts wouldn’t mind coming across a few of those while doing his gardening) we’re talking about black gold — a common term that is given to compost, that dark, crumbly, rich material created when organic material breaks down. Roberts first became familiarised with the term when he carried a bag of his compost to a woman who runs a gardening shop.
“But what you have here is black gold!”she exclaimed.
And so the term stuck with him.
From a gardening point of view, compost is invaluable, it’s like food to the soil — it nourishes it and it increases crop yields, but as Roberts also found it, composting is also a good business venture and environmentally friendly.
When Roberts decided to start composting, it was not just a matter of throwing out orange or banana peels and waiting to see what happens. He looked at it from a business standpoint. He had been a ceiling installer for around 36 years when a stroke left the right side of his body temporarily paralysed. He could no longer return to the line of work he had enjoyed for so long. Roberts spent four years in recuperation, including one year flat out on his back. Even when Roberts couldn’t move like he used to, his mind was in overdrive. New ideas would come to him in the early morning hours and he found that he could make a living right in his backyard.
Roberts had started composting years before he suffered the stroke but when he made a full recovery, he began composting in earnest. Fortunately for Roberts, he has a large backyard, ideal for composting and it’s safe to say that in the Roberts’ household, nothing goes to waste. Kitchen waste, like vegetable and fruit peelings all make their way into the compost, but Roberts makes sure to balance the green with the brown, so tree branches, leaves, and coconut shells, husks are all added to the compost along with grass clippings.
Today, Roberts has many orders to fill. To keep up with his clients, he has to make sure that there is a constant supply of materials. It’s not unusual for Roberts to go driving about in his truck on the look out for grass clippings left in bags on the roadside, neighbours and family are all to happy to drop tree branches, leaves or other compostable material for Roberts to make use of. Whatever is too big to break down, Roberts tosses it into his mulcher which grinds the larger materials into smaller bits. All the materials are evenly distributed in the compost. In the first week or two Roberts would turn his compost, then cover it using tarpaulin and let nature do the rest for the next two-and-a-half to three months.
Composting not only creates flourishing gardens but it’s also a great way to control household waste and reduce the amount of trash you accumulate. And that’s good for the environment because when organic waste is dumped at the landfills, they generate methane which is 20 times more potent that carbon dioxide. Because of their recycling the Roberts’ household has successfully limited their trash to just one medium size garbage bag per week.
“This, right here has a lot of implications for generations to come,”explains Roberts as he sifts some compost using a large trough. I want my nieces to enjoy a clean planet and to enjoy the environment like I did when I was their age. For this to be a reality, we must make our contribution now. I use whatever strength I have to make a difference.”
But Roberts not only recycles organic waste and makes compost in his backyard, he also turned recycling plastics, glass and tin cans into a business. Roberts has designed special recycling bins which he keeps in certain locations. After some time has passed Roberts collects and separates the materials. Every month Roberts deposits 63 large bales filled with plastics to the Mt Lambert-based recycling plant, Recycling in Motion. Each bag holds 400 plastic bottles, once Roberts compresses the bottles, each bag can hold 1,000 plastic bottles.
Granted, not everyone can recycle on a large scale like Roberts and for many with limited or no yard space, composting organic waste is simply not possible. But starting off small by putting plastics in a separate bin meant for recycling is easy enough so that everyone in the family can have a share.
“When I tell people I’m recycling, a lot of people say ‘I can’t do that’. But until you do it and see how it impacts on you as a person, on your surroundings and on your environment, then you see that recycling always seems impossible, until it is done,”said Roberts.