Size DOES Matter!

Small plastics such as plastic bottle caps, straws, cigarette butts and food wrappers topped the garbage collected from the coastal areas of 23 Caribbean countries in 2016. As reported by the Ocean Conservancy, just over 40, 000 citizen scientists, through hard work and probably a lot of sweating, removed over 400, 000 pounds of solid waste from around 900 km of coastline.

In the region, out of the over 2 million items collected, plastic beverage bottles reigned supreme, totaling an increase of 36% collected from 2015. These represented 22% of all plastic drinking bottles collected worldwide and 14/22% of that came from Jamaica (225070 bottles). Consequently, 90% of the bottles came from Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.

Plastic Bottles Top Again
Plastic bottles topped marine litter items in Caribbean (Illustration by Jamilla Sealy, 2018)

The top 10 items collected worldwide has changed slightly between 2015 and 2016 with foam takeaway containers creeping slyly onto the world list, replacing 9th place metal bottle caps. In the region, the number of people who participated increased by 12% which may have been attributed to the addition of countries like Sint Maarten, Cuba, Curaçao, Montserrat, St. Lucia and Suriname; an 8% increase in the weight collected and a 40% increase in the number of items collected. Cigarette butts are the only items that decreased in number from 2015 in the region. On the other side of the spectrum, straws and plastic grocery bags increased by over 50%. I am curious to see what last year’s results will bring when released.

Table 1: Top 5 Items found in 2016

Rank Item
1 Plastic Beverage Bottles
2 Plastic Bottle Caps
3 Cigarette Butts
4 Straws
5 Food Wrappers

The problem of littering and dumping of single-use plastics is so huge worldwide that the theme this year for World Environment Day is #BeatPlasticPollution. Some countries have already pledged to ban these items in the region like Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, The Bahamas, Belize and St. Kitts and Nevis. On a small island it is important that we minimise our waste since limited land equals limited landfill space. Dirtying up our land means reduced resilience to climate change impacts.

These plastics found in the marine environment can affect human health and wellbeing, tourism and fishing industry, food security, public infrastructure among others. It can also injure or kill animals through them swallowing trash or being entangled in it. Additionally it has created dead zones found under floating plastic islands currently in all oceans.

SDGs
SDGs related to waste management

In an effort to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, there are several choices to curb plastic pollution:

  • Use plastic alternatives like disposable containers made of plant materials.
  • Use less plastic items
  • Reuse or repurpose plastic items
  • Have regular community clean ups and education of young people
  • Signage and enforcement of laws and fines

My personal favourite is simply not littering or dumping! With hurricane season underway, we would not want our drains clogged to make ourselves worse off when the rain comes. I always admire the few people who take action to help everyone survive a little longer through participating in Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). High five!

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Save the Earth, Dr. Seuss Style

Dear colleagues & friends,

As Earth Day swiftly approaches, I reminisce on the basis of the animated film The Lorax. Who could have put it any better than Dr. Seuss? It teaches the basics of sustainable consumption and production and sustainable development on a whole. It also fits in with the theme for this year: It’s our turn to lead!

I often fear that my future grandchildren would grow up in a place like Thneedville, where everything was artificial, the trees and hedges were made of plastic and there was toxic waste. Air was a commodity and persons were subjected to buying bottled clean air so they can breathe at home. Clean air for sale, anyone? Also, high city walls blocked the view of the inhabitants from the wastelands outside of the city. The people there were seemingly extremely happy; walking around with their eyes closed to the real issues. But why not? They had everything they needed in Thneedville. It’s ALL Good! It was much like an island. Also the person who created the bottled air ruled the town and did not want anyone learning about trees which would take him out of business.

Real trees were a thing of the past. But the age-old love story aided in the raising of awareness about the environment. Boy meets girl, girl only wants a real tree and boy tries his best to retrieve said tree no matter the cost. Although the intent was not on conservation of natural resources, I think it shouldn’t really matter how it comes about; once it changes the minds of the public to conserve natural resources, I am happy.

It all began with a budding entrepreneur trying to make a life for himself. When he found his dream material from a tree, he immediately cut it down. The Lorax, Guardian of the Forest, warned him about the dangers.

He declared: ‘I speak for the trees!’ He even tried to run him out of the forest.

The Lorax concerned about the chopped tree (Source: https://littlelessonslearned.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/the-lorax-pic091.jpg)

So when his business started to grow, he started to harvest the material with a conscience. But as his greed stepped in, he started chop, chop, chopping with a vengeance. He asked how bad could it possibly be? His eyes were only the money and pleasing his family. He built his empire as the money piled in but alas, when he chopped down the last tree that was the end of his business. As he did not replant any, his supply vanished and his family left him. As he explained this to the love-struck boy in his old age, he happened to have a seed from one of those trees which the boy ended up planting in the city centre. He educated everyone in the town why they should let the trees grow and showed them the desolation outside the city.

Love-struck boy planting the tree in city centre (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQK7bjYQWQw)

It is a lesson for us to learn especially when it comes down to managing our natural resources. We should not let our greed get in the way and we shouldn’t use up what limited resources we have before it is too late. Islands, especially like Barbados where I’m from, need to start paying more attention to the management of their very limited natural resources, such as land, water and food.

Happy Earth Day!