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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (December 31, 1999)---The House of Representatives has begun steps to create an island-wide program aimed at promoting recycling of trash as well as reducing solid waste dumped in landfills by imposing disposal fees on materials being imported into the CNMI.

Under House Bill 11-501, called the Commonwealth Recycling Act of 1999, the government will assess these fees on top of other government taxes.

The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Manuel A. Tenorio and Heinz S. Hofschneider, was passed by the lower house Wednesday and now heads to the Senate for action.

Backed by the Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the measure is in line with the anticipated completion of the new landfill in Marpi and the closure of Puerto Rico dumpsite within the next few months.

Additional legislation, which is a component to HB 11-510, will deal with the tons of waste beverage bottles and cans produced on the island each year. The proposal seeks to charge a deposit for each can or bottle sold commercially.

Both bills are part of the comprehensive plan on solid waste drawn up by a government task force that will drastically reduce the volume of garbage in the dumpsites or landfills while promoting environmental protection.

According to lawmakers, the mounting heaps of solid waste coming from island residents and businesses on Saipan has triggered fresh concerns over the long-term disposal capacity of the new landfill in Marpi.

With the planned waste diversion and recycling, lawmakers hope to protect the island's natural resources and maintain its tourism appeal, while reducing the costs of waste management in the CNMI.

The proposed fee can also help eliminate many toxic and hazardous materials from the landfill, as it will cover a portion of the waste management costs. The collected revenues will be used to fund programs such as recycling, reuse or re-manufacturing.

The legislation calls for DEQ to administer the program that will include public education as well as administrative sanctions for violations of the rules and regulations to be implemented once they become law.

"Preliminary economic research indicates that this program will be self-sustaining, with minimal impact on the cost of goods to end users. Overall, we feel that a cleaner, safer place to live in is worth the minimal cost added onto certain consumer goods," the bill said.

Mr. Tenorio said the proposal has not listed imported materials that will be charged disposal fees or the rates to be charged, to provide leeway to DEQ to come up with guidelines.

"The division is uncomfortable with a specific list because it will tie its hands," he explained. "There is no set fee but it will be on a break-even basis, meaning that it won't cost the government any money but it will be a self-sustaining program."

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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