Written by – José Estrada
Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) has a bad habit of using excessive disposables and this is contributing to the solid waste problem.
Situated north of South America, with a population of 1.3 million, and a total area of 1,980 square miles, the country has a “take-away” food consumption culture with little provision of alternatives. Furthermore, there seems to be a general lack of information about the life cycle of disposables and the eco-friendly packaging available on the market.
In general, the use of disposables is socially accepted because it is considered to be the most practical option. However, with the prevalence of littering in T&T, one-time use disposables are leading to widespread flooding and are detrimental to watersheds and marine life in the waters surrounding the islands.
Information gathered from International Coastal Cleanup (Source: Ocean Conservancy)
Styrofoam, napkins, empty plastic bottles, pizza packaging, used boxes of fried chicken, and waxed paper are found in the typical garbage bag in T&T, but what is worrying is that these items can be found in large amounts on sidewalks, roadsides, in rivers, in the sea, and on the shores. Littering reveals the lack of environmental conscious of a society and low sensitivity of the communities to the effects of littering.
That being said, the responsibility must be placed on the producers, vendors, and consumers. In this way the whole society must be part of the solution.
In T&T, for instance, supermarkets and other stores pack all purchases in plastic bags and even double the bags. If someone buys a bottle of water they will put it in a plastic bag even when the product is in its own packaging.
To start change, it is necessary to promote eco-commerce and encourage a business culture that does not give consumers more than is needed. It is possible to achieve balance and synergy between business and the environment. Also, there needs to be the promotion and marketing of reusable tableware. T&T therefore needs to evolve its approach to packaging. The consumers need to be provided with information about the environmental impact of disposables.
Imagine, for instance, a system involving commercial strategies where ecofriendly costumers have a preferential line and discounts.
Regarding responsible consumption, policy makers can generate strong changes and gradually diminish the consumption of disposabeles
It is important for policy makers to generate strong changes to gradually diminish the consumption of disposables and generate social comprehension.
Products such as styrofoam and plastics must be replaced by eco-friendly products, fulfilling the same function. To get this, it is necessary to promote Research and Development (R&D), local production, and introduce eco-packaging in the market, with competitive prices. All sectors of society are responsible for improving their consumption habits and decreasing the environmental impact caused by solid wastes.
The polemic information reported by the National Geographic documentary, The Big Picture, said that T&T is the world’s largest producer of garbage per capita. This was denied by the Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL). It was explained that 32 lbs of garbage per day, per capita is exaggerated. However, even if the real current average is 3.2 lbs/day-person, it is still too much for such a country of this size. Therefore, it is urgent to promote campaigns from the base of the society and encourage questions in the society about what people (we) are producing and decide on visible alternatives.
There are new trends to change the paradigm, for instance, designing certified products to not generate waste (c2ccertified.org), economy models to integrate the wastes as a resource (theblueeconomy.org) or to integrate policies pursuing the large approach of materials as a whole system, reducing the waste production (zerowaste.org). The challenge is to introduce a new logic in the local society that refuses large quantities of garbage production.
It is important to push the market and consumers into a state of mind which places sustainable development to the forefront. This includes looking at solid waste production differently. Influential policymakers must promote the research and development of eco-products and install a question in the society generating a new perception about what garbage means, in this way, the next generations will begin to interpret waste as a essential resource that must be maximised.
About the author –
José Estrada is a young environmentalist from Colombia. In 2015, José lived in Trinidad and Tobago for three months, engaging with local environmental NGOs -The Caribbean Youth Environment Network in Trinidad and Tobago and Inipsis-to learn about the environmental issues faced by the citizenry.