Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 7th 2013 Contents A24
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, October 7, 2013
Early childhood memory: a bot-
tle of peanut butter slips from
my hands, hits the floor and
the glass shatters into a thousand
pieces. My best buddy looks at me
angrily, our plan to steal a few spoon-
fuls of peanut butter foiled.
This was around 1980. If this hap-
pened to a kid today, chances are the
bottle wouldn t shatter, but bounce.
Glass bottles are becoming a rarity.
Plastic is king in the packaging indus-
try.It s not just bottles, but plastic wrap,
plastic containers, plastic squeeze
tubes. Remember walking on the
beach and finding colourful glass
beads, which are now a rarity? The
beads are gone. You re more likely to
trip over a plastic bottle.
Plastic never biodegrades. It can t.
Wood, grass, food scraps, undergo
biodegradation, the process by which
they are transformed by bacteria to
natural compounds. Bacteria have no
appetite for plastic. Research shows
that there may be bacteria that eat
plastic, but until waste treatment
plants can put this research into
action, we have no real way of getting
rid of it.
Plastic degrades. This means that it
breaks down to the smallest possible
piece---but it doesn t return to a natu-
The main way by which plastic
degrades is by photodegradation---sun-
light. UV radiation breaks the bonds
holding the long molecular chain
together. In a landfill setting, like the
Beetham dump, sunlight rarely hits the
buried plastic. If not for the frequent
landfill fires---which spew dioxins and
other deadly toxins over Port-of-
Spain---plastic buried in our dumps
could take hundreds, or thousands of
years to degrade. Nobody really knows
Throw plastic into the ocean, where
it s exposed to as much water as sun-
light, and plastic breaks down remark-
ably fast. Maybe even as fast as a year.
Great news, right?
Remember now that plastic doesn t
degrade to a natural compound. What
we re left with are tiny bits of plastic,
which contain toxic compounds such
as bisphenol A (BPA). The US Envi-
ronmental Protection Agency (EPA)
describes BPA as: "a reproductive,
developmental, and systemic toxicant
in animal studies and is weakly
oestrogenic. There are questions about
its potential impact particularly on
children s health and the environment."
These "questions" have been reason
enough for the US Food and Drug
Administration and the EU and Cana-
da to ban BPA use in baby bottles.
BPA may cause breast cancer. BPA
reduces sperm count in rats. The US
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did
a survey, which showed that 93 per
cent of 2,157 people between the ages
of six and 85 tested had detectable
levels of BPA s by-product in their
Plastic and its toxins are in us, part
We can see big pieces of plastic.
Marine animals mistake plastic for
food. Turtles eat jellyfish. A plastic
bag looks like a jellyfish in the water.
The bags can choke them or get stuck
in their stomach and intestines, caus-
ing them to slowly starve to death.
Recently a whale washed up in the
Netherlands. When they autopsied it,
it s stomach was full of plastic.
Humans react emotionally to the
deaths of animals like dolphins, whales
and turtles, but what about the build-
ing blocks of the food chain? It s what
we re not seeing that s the scary part.
Krill and lugworms and shrimp and
barnacles serve as food for larger ani-
mals. They ingest small toxin-laced
plastic particles, mistaking them for
food as well. These toxic particles
move up the food chain, ending on
Think about those chemicals the
next time you dig in to sushi or tuna
or flying fish. Maybe you disregarded
the EPA s advice to skip shark meat
because it s mercury-laden, and feast-
ed on endangered shark at Maracas on
Sunday. Don t worry; the tamarind
sauce will mask the mercury and BPA
The good thing is: we can recycle
plastic. Companies like Plastikeep are
paving the way for plastic recycling in
There s one common plastic which
is hard to recycle: polystyrene, or sty-
rofoam. Styrofoam is actually a trade
name. It contains a toxin called
styrene, a suspected carcinogen.
It s what takeaway restaurants usual-
ly serve food in. It should be banned.
With government help polystyrene
manufacturers should be able to retool
to plant-based biodegradable plastic.
The Draft Beverage Container Bill
has been around for more than a
decade. Hold public consultations and
set a time limit of three months to
implement the recommendations. It s
about collecting bottles, not building
It can be done. Eighty per cent of
waste can be recycled. Implement a
waste-management plan which
Marc de Verteuil is a director of
Papa Bois Conservation
Plastic waste collects at Hart's Cut, Chaguaramas.
MARC DE VERTEUIL
THE GOOD THING:
WE CAN RECYCLE PLASTIC
Chinese firm picked for project
faces corruption probe
Looks like we have done it again. Perhaps going for
"kickbacks" is the incentive here. Never mind how well
it's dressed up, it all boils down to corruption. A lack of
transparency and accountability.
Our politicians just love to dabble in this type of
criminal activity. On the other hand, overseas
investors see our politicians and our nation as easy
prey because of our past record and what is still going
G A Marques
Ramesh: Witness protection
programme has collapsed
The witness protection programme failed the day it
was implemented. Trinidad is too small and the
culture of gossip coupled with corrupt law enforcers
make it impossible to hide anyone in T&T.
Stop Orange Grove aquatic
centre says historian
Did the Government apply for and receive a
Certificate of Environmental Clearance? This
development appears to fall under the CEC
Designated Activities Order.
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