It’s as if we’ve been dropped into a scene of Star Wars – faced with a desert of dust and pockets of gas pushing their way to the surface, like clouds being pushed in the wind, drifting up through what can only be described as a beasty valley of trash mountains and hills. Between them, a “river” of gravel making way for trucks to ascend their way to the highest point, where day-by-day their size can only raise.

A place you’d imagine no person would want to be…but instead there are men and women of different ages. Some are in T-shirts and trousers, while others have cloth coiled around their faces, sifting through the trash to find any valuable resources that can be sold on. Some are employed, some are there on their own accord. 


Photo credit: Sam Peltz & eXXpedition

There we are, 11 women with masks around our mouths, turning our heads as the clouds of dust head right for us. The stench of the waste surrounds us, but there we are, observing these people as they pull apart plastic, metal, wood, hammering away to get what they can.


Photo credit: Jamie Colman & eXXpedition

One young guy sits himself down inside a shelter made of wooden pallets as we wander up and around, weaving through washing powder packaging, a fully intact toy car, bottles, construction materials, to name just a few.

As we get further up the hill, we lift our heads away from the ground beneath us to find the most beautiful view out to sea, with a forest of mangroves between us. For that split second there’s a moment of calm and serenity before we realize the unprecedented juxtaposition between the two landscapes, and how somewhere as beautiful as Antigua can have a not so beautiful side. A side where the mangroves are faced with leakage from the landfill, even though we are reassured that the leakage is being environmentally monitored, it is still, leakage. 


Photo credit: Sally Earthrowl & eXXpedition

Earlier in the day, the facility manager graciously shared some information and data with us and gave us the opportunity to ask questions. In his office, likely accustomed with the quality of the air, he shared his vision of the island going zero-waste one day. Plastics in 2006 was estimated to be close to one-fifth of Antigua’s total waste by weight. With Antigua being the first country within the Caribbean to ban plastic bags and other single-use plastics, the total plastics should be expected to be less now in 2019. With a figure of 3.5 kg of waste being generated per person per day (SIC Emmanuel Dubois) it seems that this dream of being zero-waste may be quite some way away.  

 Photo credits: (left) Jamie Colman, (centre & right) Sam Peltz

On the upside, the facility manager also proudly spoke of the sanitary landfill, and how he wished it had not filled so quickly. However,  he was also very optimistic about a new possible site for a second sanitary landfill and seemed excited at the idea, that if they could reduce the per capita waste and increase recycling, the sanitary landfill could last longer, and possibly the dream of being zero-waste, a couple of steps closer.

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