About a week ago, Linda Tatreau was heading to a popular hiking and community recreational spot when she found piles of trash – bags piled on top of each other or on top of household furniture, appliances and tires, as well as broken glass and tile.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time she’s seen the road leading to Thousand Steps in Mangilao trashed like this.
Nor is it the second, or third time.
Neither will it be the first, second or third time she or others in our community would dedicate time to clean this or other areas around our island of trash deliberately and irreverently dumped by other people.
“We've cleaned this area a few times over the years,” Tatreau said. “And of course we’ve cleaned up areas all over the island.”
Tatreau is now retired from her career as an educator. She spent years working with students, sharing with them the responsibility everyone has in keeping our environment clean – not just because it looks nicer but oftentimes there are chemicals that are in appliances, or emptied containers that held bleach, pesticides, oil, paint, acid or other substances that are dangerous for our environment and the people who come into contact with it. What's also bothersome is she's noticed the growing problem of construction waste, including tiles, concrete and glass.
A cost to cleaning up after people
Nicholas Lee, Guam Environmental Protection Agency spokesman, said he’s unsure how many times that specific location has been cleaned up but noted that EPA has cleaned the area as have mayors and multiple community groups over the years.
And it’s a similar situation for other areas throughout the island, including Inarajan pool. A Guam Daily Post reader earlier this month shared photos of food packages and drink containers that people left around the popular swimming spot. Inarajan Mayor Doris Lujan said, to help Department of Parks and Recreation maintain the area for locals and tourists alike, she’s dedicating staff to clean up after others at least once a week.
Tatreau noted that the community expends money, time and other resources to clean up after people who leave their trash behind — that's money that could be used to address many other things around the island.
Lee said the cost of cleaning up dump sites or trash left by beachgoers varies by the volume and type of waste that is picked up and disposed.
“This means hundreds of dollars at the low end to thousands of dollars on the high end,” he said.
About a year ago, GEPA worked with the Department of Public Works, hundreds of volunteers and the Dededo Mayor's Office to clean a large illegal dumpsite in Dededo. The effort required several trash disposal bins, multiple trips to either the transfer station for regular household trash, or a certified receiver for white goods, metal, tires and other items not allowed at the transfer stations. Adding the costs that were offset by donations, the effort cost about $10,000.
Just weeks after the cleanup effort, residents reported more trash had been dumped at the site.
Lee said litter citations and notices of violation are the current mechanisms in place to bring about compliance with local laws, relative to Title 10 GCA Chapter 51. But catching people in the act in order to cite them is a challenge.
“Vigilance goes a long way. The agency is appreciative of every tip and complaint that we receive about littering and illegal dumping,” Lee stated. “We do what we can within our resources and statutory authority. … We rely on the community for heightened awareness to keep guard over areas that are affected by littering and illegal dumping.”
'Not a single good excuse'
But there remains a question of why people continue to dump their household trash. With groups like Tatreau’s Marine Mania, which inspired other school organizations, and the increasing popularity of the island’s green movement, there still are people who use the island as a giant trash can.
Lee called illegal dumping “a social ill that we are all dealing with.”
“There is not a single good excuse for improperly managing one’s waste,” he stated, but noted the reality that “some people may not have the financial means to properly dispose of their waste, or they may be unwilling to do so out of inconvenience or ignorance.”
Tatreau agrees. And adds that there have been recommendations to address a personal economic situation that becomes a health and environmental situation for the island.
“I remember when trash service was free, you put your trash out on the days it was supposed to be picked up,” she paused to acknowledge that service wasn’t always reliable and sometimes trash sat for weeks on front lawns and near sidewalks for weeks. “But it was free so it was available to everyone … but since we went into receivership and the receiver started charging … people have started dumping.”
Strong political will required
Tatreau said anyone below the poverty level should have trash services for free. This would be funded, she said with a disposal fee: “Anything coming in (to the ports) should be charged for disposal – whether it’s by the container load or individual item.”
But such a solution will require strong political will.
“Of course, as soon as you say the word 'tax,' you may not be voted in the next election,” Tatreau stated. Such a tax might make people think twice about purchasing items that they don’t necessary need.
She added that, without some solution, illegal dumping could make an already ugly situation worse: “We’re drowning in our own trash.”