Bullish BCL “totally committed” to resuming mining at Panguna
Trail of Woe: Bucks versus benefits; the ugly side of Kokoda

A putrescent Moresby loses control of its appalling waste problem

Sil - Despoiled Waigani Swamp
Waigani Swamp and its peatlands disappear under a burden of landfill and waste washed in by  seasonal rains


PORT MORESBY - Managing solid waste is one of the biggest problems in Port Moresby and it is strange that it receives so little attention compared to other urban management issues.

In fact, it could be said that the quality of waste management services is a good indicator of a city’s governance.

The yellow and green coloured 44-gallon drums placed along streets and in suburbs and markets have been bent and broken over time.

Truth be told, there are no suitable rubbish bins and public toilets in the city.

There is also no routine collection and disposal of rubbish.

Port Moresby’s long dry season intensifies the stench of human faeces and urine and the sour odour of heaps of rubbish.

For more than 20 years, I foraged Waigani swamp for supertala (fish) and wild ducks and have gradually witnessed dismantled car parts, tyres, containers, plastics and much more engulf my hunting ground.

Solid waste dumped into drains in the northern part of the city accumulates for months until finally the rains come and sweep it into the Waigani swamp. In the south the rains drive the waste into the sea.

Sil - Rubbish on  roadside
The roadside is a convenient spot for dumping rubbish. Everyone does it so there’s no shame

The swamp has also served as landfill for many decades and is a seriously diminished natural asset.

Lately, during the rainy season, the floods – seeking new outlets – have reneged on their usual path and inundate the suburb of Morata. The swamp has said it’s had enough.

Many developing country cities manage to informally create recycling, reuse and repair systems which achieve recovery rates comparable to those in the West and at no cost to the formal waste management sector. But not so much in Port Moresby.


Sil - Rubbish in drain
Drains full of rubbish – awaiting the wet season to wash them into the swamp or the sea

Although in our city, the poor scavenge the drains to collect cans and aluminium to sell perhaps saving the city as much 20% of its waste management budget and effectively subsidising the city.

There is a major opportunity for the city to build on these existing recycling systems, to increase further the existing recycling rates, to protect and develop people’s livelihoods, and to reduce still further the costs to the city of managing the remaining wastes.

This form of inclusion in solid waste management will show how spectacular results can be achieved where the involvement of the informal sector is promoted. Many developing country cities still have an active informal sector and micro-enterprise recycling, reuse and repair.

The formal and informal sectors need to work together, for the benefit of both. The priorities of good resource management can be expressed by the ‘3Rs’ – reduce, reuse, recycle; the last further split between dry recyclables and bio-solids or organic wastes.

Recycled materials can be extracted, recovered and returned to boost industrial value chains. The city can return nutrients to the soil by composting organic, plant and animal waste together with safely managed and treated human faeces. These are sources of key nutrients for the agricultural value chain and their proper utilisation is important to food security and sustainable development.

At present, primary collection is done by households themselves and left in iron trays on the roadside for weeks until authorised collectors’ trucks arrive to deliver what remain to the landfills at Baruni.


Sil - Vehicles
Disabled and stripped vehicles become homes for snakes. There’s no shortage of these vipers’ dens

The three key elements that need to be addressed for an integrated solid waste management (ISWM) system to work well and sustainably are public health, environment and resource management.

Public health aims to maintain healthy conditions particularly through a good waste collection service. Environmental protection needs to occur throughout the waste chain, especially treatment and disposal. Resource management closes the loop by returning materials and nutrients for beneficial use through striving for high rates of recovery, reuse and recycling.

The great challenges to our community and our city in these areas are to provide spaces for people to contribute as users, providers and enablers, achieve cost-effective and affordable services and develop a foundation of sound institutions with workable policies.

The solid waste management challenge is one of the critical responsibilities of our city government. It needs to rise to the challenge as it continues to seek to provide a liveable city.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Garry Roche

Hagen town was generally neat and clean in the seventies and eighties. And in the rural areas that I was familiar with in the Jimi and around Hagen, there were always bush toilets that were a bit rough but presentable. The ceremonial parks, of which there were many, were normally kept very clean and flowers were often to be seen planted around the borders of food gardens. Mondays were community work days when the people themselves took care of the public roads, repairing roads and managing any waste material. The Local Government Councillors usually ensured that their own clan members, - men and women – turned up to help. No payment was given for such work, it was simply the contribution of the local community to the upkeep of roads in their own area.
If the responsibility for waste management is removed from the local community, and the responsibility is given to a central authority, there must be some way of involving the local community in the whole process.

Paul Oates

This sad picture paints the inevitable question of what's missing? The answer is motivation.

Surely there must be many accepting the public purse who are responsible for this mess yet the problem seems unsolvable. The answers are clearly spelt out in the article and everyone knows what has to be done yet nothing happens.

The problem is not the symptoms but the disease therefore of 'Why?'

Until the disease is effectively attacked the symptoms, as has been related, will only get worse.

In essence, what is being described is not much better than the situation in Europe's Middle Ages. At least human waste isn't yet apparently just dumped on the city streets by householders.

Yet in the scheme of how far things can descend to, unless something happens, that's where it will end up.

How many of those attending APEC will see what the everyday Moresby resident sees? Well at least they have so far been spared those personal and mostly inane personal tweets.

Tine Ningal

Very well articulated, bro Sil Bolkin. The appalling waste management situation is symptomatic of the mindset and style of leadership.

The governance, policy making and implementation at the decision-making level is reflected in the general attitude and behaviour of city residents as stakeholders and actors.

If there is lack of vision, planning, implementation and monitoring towards sustainability, the various functions collapse, rendering the entire system unworkable.

It is time for a re-evaluation of the city waste management system towards identifying and strengthening the unworkable/missing elements/links to achieve a workable system under the three Rs (reuse, reduce, recycle).

Keep up the good work in highlighting current and critical issues affecting PNG.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)