Water, Waste and Sanitation (WATSAN) director Jaime Short said the ministry commissioned a feasibility study to look at what waste treatment options were viable for the Cook Islands, and it recommended not to move to incineration.
Instead, the study suggested focusing on waste minimisation which the ministry had already started and is continuing to work at in various forms including awareness campaigns, product bans, updating the National Solid Waste Management Strategy, writing legislation and a change in rules and procedures for roadside refuse collection.
A letter to CINews earlier this week expressed concerns about the national waste incinerator that the writer said had earlier been proposed by ICI.
The writer said one major concern was the well-documented impact on the health of any community living near a waste incinerator.
“I am concerned because I heard the finance minister is actively negotiating with the EU to have this incinerator installed,” the letter writer, who asked not to be named, said.
The writer also said finance minister Mark Brown had approached the EU for funding for an incinerator, but Brown said this week this claim was incorrect.
Short said wealthy countries had the funds and expertise to operate incinerators properly.
In the Cook Islands, she said, waste did not get much attention and there was no-one qualified or experienced to operate an incinerator.
Short said the landfill in Arorangi was full, but the old waste was already degrading.
“I think we can get more life out of the area by re-compacting every few years with heavy machinery and creating new cells with the bales (of compacted waste) themselves,” Short said.
She said it would be possible to cut waste to landfill by 67 per cent if all island residents would sort their waste and recyclables and if an industrial glass crusher was purchased for the island.
“The current draft of the new strategy details all this,” Short said, adding that it would take the cooperation of the public and politicians to achieve the 67 per cent cut.
She said the major part of the strategy was sustainable financing that promoted separation of waste and anti-littering through refund deposits on recyclable and hazardous waste.
“We’re working at getting tougher on residents because we actually have to. We’re going to refuse collection if rubbish isn’t sorted and (contractors) T&M Heather have actually been practicing that already without direction from us,” Short said.
“The roadsides are going to be a mess, but that will hopefully motivate change within the community.”
Short also said the landfill had no more rain cover, so any heavy rain could create overland flow (water moving over the land like sheets), which would carry contaminants downhill.
“Hazardous waste is not permitted in the landfill though, so any contaminants would be bacteria and nutrients from rotting food. Such heavy rain comes maybe once a year though
“It is more likely that non-compliant septic tanks would have a worse effect on groundwater and the lagoon than the waste facility would.
“The incinerator report recommends to extend the landfill up higher in the valley, alongside the minimisation efforts.”
Short confirmed no fines had yet been imposed on island residents found burning plastic and rubber, which produces dangerous fumes.
However, she said this could change as stakeholders were getting their legislation updated and looking at introducing instant fines for burning these materials.