Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 20th 2015 Contents B6
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt September 20, 2015
Yesterday, volunteers would have converged on
beaches and coastlines all over the world to clean
up coastal garbage as part of the International
Coastal Clean-up (ICC) 2015.
A large portion of the waste that would have been
collected is made from plastic. Kamau Akili, in the
article, Solid Waste Management in Tobago, summed
up the local context by saying that the challenge "of
solid waste disposal mushroomed from the late 1960s
with the arrival of non-biodegradable plastic as a
packaging material, combined with the importation
of a wide variety of manufactured goods to satisfy
our increasingly affluent society. Galvanised iron
buckets, enamel cups and plates, ice boxes, paper
bags and returnable soft drink glass bottles gave way
to the plastic bucket and cup, the refrigerator, the
plastic bag and the plastic bottle."
The above quotation provides a vivid illustration
of the way we were and the way we are today. In
a landfill or tossed at the back of the house, the
enamel cup would rust into metal flakes that would
actually add nutrients to a soil. The paper bag would
disintegrate and cause no further harm. Even burning
would not release toxic chemicals that can cause
serious harm to a human being. By contrast, plastic,
the most ubiquitous material used today, stays around
long after its use has been served. After the plastic
chair or toy has broken or the plastic bag or bottle
has been used and discarded, it stays around in the
landfill or floats around in
our seas for years.
Change is inevitable.
The days of enamel plates
and ice boxes are over, but
we can learn from the past
even as we move forward
with technology. In T&T,
there are five dumps or
landfills where all our
garbage is disposed. For
some time, there has been
discussions regarding clos-
ing both the Beetham and
Guanapo landfills, which
have already surpassed their capacity. With the average
citizen generating 1.8 kg of waste per day, however,
the time is ripe for us to rethink our waste disposal
The finite nature of our natural resources becomes
more apparent with each passing year. Oil and gas
are non-renewable, finite resources that have been
extracted for decades. Recalling that plastic is made
from petroleum, we should prepare ourselves to start
thinking differently about it.
In our last column, we discussed the three R s
(Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) and the important role
they play in waste management. With the knowledge
that plastic is already all around us, clogging our
landfills, that only a small amount of it is positioned
to be recycled and that it is produced from a depleting
resource, perhaps we can start thinking of ways to
reduce and replace it in our lives. There are several
small-scale foreign companies that are already creating
alternatives, such as cloth bags to replace zipper
plastic bags for food. In Berlin, Germany, a couple
of young entrepreneurs have opened a zero-waste
grocery where you purchase as much food as you
need, filling containers that you bring with you, in
a hygienic setting. In T&T, we must prepare to take
sustainable living to this level.
However, the reality is that as a nation, we need
to address littering before we can delve too deeply
into the three R s and its entrepreneurial offshoots.
Have you walked down the road, behind someone
who dropped an item and then kicked it into the
gutter? Have you been this person? Litter may begin
in the city, in a school yard or at the side of a river,
but a lot of it eventually makes its way to the sea,
via our canals and rivers. That litter is often plastic.
It may float far away from Trinidad, breaking down
to becoming part of an oceanic "garbage patch"
which, research has shown, is a soup of tiny
bits of plastic that can enter the food chain.
Alternatively, it may wash up whole or in
chunks on one of our beaches.
As part of ICC 2014, 530 local volunteers
cleaned our beaches in T&T, collecting a
total of 2,129 kg of garbage, of which there
were 974 food wrappers, 4,099 plastic bot-
tles and 1,598 plastic bottle covers. We will
stay tuned for the data produced from yes-
terday s efforts. Kudos to all of you who
took the time out to participate in this global
effort. The greater challenges remain---
reducing the amount of garbage we generate
daily and changing the national culture
towards littering. Changing attitudes comes
through education, awareness and legisla-
The EMA continues to fulfil our role in
this, in a variety of ways, including through
this column, our public education efforts
and, most recently, with our national iCARE
(Community, Awareness, Recycle, Everyday)
Following the plastic trail
reducing the amount
of garbage we
generate daily and
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