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.
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
|1||Plastic Beverage Bottles|
|2||Plastic Bottle Caps|
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.
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!