Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 18th 2017 Contents In recent months, a significant
amount of momentum has built up
around banning the use of styrofoam
products in T&T.
In March, the Tobago House of
Assembly passed a motion to phase
out the importation, production and use of
polystyrene foam products on the island.
Also in March, a petition started by an-
ti-litter activist Anika Mohammed called for
the Ministry of Planning and Development
to take decisive action against the material
from which cups, containers and even coolers
"Styrofoam, also known as polystyrene, a
commonly used product in Trinidad and To-
bago, has many detrimental impacts to our
health and the environment.
"Furthermore, styrofoam is often discarded
as litter, polluting our streets, oceans and bays,
takes hundreds of years to decompose, and
is known to break into small pieces choking
animals," Mohammed's petition letter read.
Galvanising support for Mohammed was the
group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS)
which endorsed Mohammed's petition adding
that "polystyrene is the principal source of
litter and will eventually end up in our roads,
waterways and landfills and will linger in the
environment for centuries to come."
FFOS also alleged, in a letter published in
the Express newspaper in March, that "pol-
ystyrene is manufactured from fossil fuels
and is known to cause developmental, hae-
matological (blood), circulatory (heart), renal
(kidney) and immunological disorders. It also
composed of synthetic chemicals (benzene
and styrene), which may leach if in contact
with hot, greasy or acidic foods---including
The letter added that styrene was "a known
hazardous substance and has many ties to
In response to the outcry, and in consul-
tation with various stakeholders from the
food and beverage industry, the Ministry of
Planning took a decision to form a working
committee comprising other government
ministries and private sector stakeholders to
chart a path forward for resolving the styro-
One company and its leader have, however,
decided to steer the conversation in a different
John Chay is the managing director of
Santainers Ltd, manufacturers of the popu-
lar Sanicup brand. He argues that much of
the discussion around banning styrofoam is
taking place in a data-free zone.
"People have raised certain issues regarding
styrofoam: health, environmental/pollution
and economic. These have been the three main
issues that have been put forward to support a
styrofoam ban," Chay said, as he spoke to the
Business Guardian from his Guy and Gordon
distribution outpost on Ariapita Avenue in
Chay, a chemical engineer by training, added
that on all counts, the impact of styrofoam
has been blown out of proportion.
To assuage the public's concern about
health-related issues surrounding styrofoam,
Chay and his company have launched a series
of print advertisements to raise the level of
public awareness about his products.
"Regarding the health issue, our product
is approved for use in terms of food contact
by the US Food and Drug Administration, by
Health Canada and the European Union. So
in those three instances our product has been
approved for food contact."
Questioned about the perception that styro-
foam has a significant environmental impact,
Chay noted that polystyrene was among the
lowest level of pollutants found in the waste
"Based on studies done by the EMA (En-
vironmental Management Authority) and
SWMCOL (Solid Waste Management Com-
pany of T&T), polystyrene makes up about 1.5
per cent of the total waste in T&T. So even if its
banned, there is still roughly 98.5 per cent of
the locally generated waste to deal with. The
problem really is litter," Chay said.
Citing an international example, Chay
pointed out that alternatives to styrofoam
tended to end up in the same waste stream.
"In San Francisco, for example, a survey
was conducted before and after they had their
ban (on polystyrene) and they found that the
alternative packaging ended up in the same
place, the landfill, as litter."
According to Chay, much of the discussion
around banning styrofoam products was sim-
"The idea of a global movement to ban sty-
rofoam is ridiculous. Some people say it's 100
countries. No chance of that. Further, some
places only have a partial ban like San Jose,
California, for example where the ban is on
large city events. So small city events, medium
city events and restaurants are not affected.
In South Beach, Miami, the ban is only on
the waterfront, the beachfront and in public
parks," Chay said.
Focusing on the economic impact of ban-
ning styrofoam products, Chay said the effects
could be far-reaching.
He said: "Economically, you would be look-
ing at more than 400 job losses in the manu-
facturing and distribution sector. Thousands
of small restaurants and micro-businesses -
vendors will have to pay considerably more
for sanitary food packaging which will result
in many closures and increased food prices.
"The whole population will have to pay more
at the grocery as the polystyrene trays used
for meats and fresh produce are replaced by
much more expensive alternatives."
In an attempt to find a solution to the sty-
rofoam problem, the thrust has been to focus
on biodegradable components to assist in the
breakdown of polystyrene products.
In an article published in the Business
Guardian in March, Dwight DeLeon, a local
businessman selling a biodegradable additive
to assist in the degradation of polystyrene
products, discussed the effects that a small
amount of his product added to styrofoam
at the point of manufacturing could have on
the long-term environment impact of pol-
In Chay's opinion however, the term "bi-
odegradable" as used in resolving styro-
foam-related pollution, is more fashionable
"When an item degrades, products are
produced by the degradation and the envi-
ronmental impact of these products has to be
assessed," Chay said.
Chay, whose company won the Prime Min-
ister's Exporter of the Year award in 2009,
added that the results of biodegradation could
also pose an environmental threat.
"When paper and other 'biodegradables'
break-down they produce methane, a green-
house gas, and a toxic broth of leachates which
pollute the soil, water table and surface waters.
Some biodegradables only break-up the plastic
into small pieces. The quantity of plastic does
Certainly to treat with the issues surround-
ing styrofoam, Chay believes that a greater
level of dialogue needs to take place.
He does, however, believe that the conver-
sation should be angled in the right direction
and not simply reduced to an all-out ban.
"A lot of people think negatively about plas-
tics in general, but it is essential for life as we
know it today.
"Again, the real issue is litter. We need to
put litter in its proper place. Once the litter
is disposed of as it should be there really is no
problem. On all our packaging we put "do not
litter", so we know what our responsibility is
in that regard. We believe individuals should
do the same."
Chay pointed out that at the state level, more
needed to be done to ensure a "cleaner scene"
and better forms of waste disposal.
"Getting the waste in the right place is im-
portant. Having sufficient litter bins around
for waste collection is equally as important.
Once the waste gets in the right place, the re-
sponsible authorities can sort it accordingly.
"The most practical way forward for T&T is
to find ways to reuse the styrofoam," he said.
MAY 18 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | BG7
Local manufacturer responds to public outcry and talk of ban
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