June 5th 2018 marks the 44th observance of World Environment Day – a day established by the United Nations in 1974 to raise global awareness and action for the protection of our planet. World Environment Day is used as a rostrum for Global consciousness as it pertains to the preservation and protection of the Environment.  Celebrated in over 100 countries, World Environment Day marks a call to action for solo activities as well as activities in groups. It is a day to ‘do something’ locally, nationally or globally.

 

This year’s theme “Beat Plastics Pollution”, is a call to action for the global community to work together to address the ever-growing quantities of plastics that are polluting our landscapes and seas, ultimately affecting both our wildlife and our health. 

 

Globally, over 5 trillion plastic bags are used every year, and one million plastic bottles are bought every minute.  The global production of plastics has increased from 1.5 million metric tonnes in 1950 to 311 million metric tonnes in 2014.  Disposable plastic products including single use plastics contribute 50% of this amount.  It is estimated that 275 million tonnes of plastics are produced annually, 31.9 million of which are improperly disposed of, and 8.75 million of which end up in the ocean.

 

 

Trinidad and Tobago, as a Nation, must be aware of this and understand that plastics are not biodegradable like paper and raw food material. Most plastics take up to 1000 years to fully decompose. This means we must all, fully consider the effects of using a plastic bag, drinking a beverage packaged using plastic, and even using a straw.

 

In Trinidad and Tobago, over eight thousand tonnes of plastics are being disposed of at the nation’s landfills annually, this does not include the countless amounts which are indiscriminately discarded throughout the country.  Plastics in Trinidad and Tobago account for approximately 19% of the municipal solid waste entering the three landfill sites operated by SWMCOL. That amounts to approximately 90,000 tonnes, and is the 2nd largest component of the waste stream after organics.  This is far too much.

 

As Minister of Public Utilities, waste is my responsibility, a duty I take very seriously. Thus, The Ministry of Public Utilities, through its state agency, SWMCOL, has begun to tackle the problem of plastic pollution through a multifaceted approach to waste management.   

 

With a view to improving the institutional arrangements for the management of solid waste within Trinidad and Tobago, Cabinet, in 2017, agreed inter alia, to the expansion of the mandate of SWMCOL to include the functions of the proposed Waste Recycling Management Authority (WRMA).  

 

A key function of SWMCOL’s expanded mandate is the administration of the Waste Recycling Policy, 2014, which involves the efficient coordination and implementation of the National Waste Recycling Management System. This required investments into plastic processing equipment, implementation of a number of recycling programs and an increased focused on public education.

 

In 2016, SWMCOL also established a materials recovery facility at its Guanapo Landfill Site, where commingled recyclables are received and sorted for shredding and/or baling.  This shredded or baled product is sold to be used in the manufacture of new products.  For instance, the plastic bottles are used in the manufacture of products such as carpet and children’s toys.  

 

To ensure that the raw materials for the plant are readily available, SWMCOL and the Ministry of Public Utilities, in January 2018, launched the Public Sector Recycling Program(PSRP). In the first phase of this program, recycling programs were established in eight government institutions, with more to come.

 

Recognizing that the private sector also has a major role to play in reducing its environmental impact, the Ministry then sought to implement a similar program across the private sector.  It is in this context that the Workplace Waste Reduction and Recycling Programme (WRAP) was developed to introduce sustainable environmental practices in the private sector.

 

These initiatives, however, will be useless without you the Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, which is why I continue the call to move from spectators to citizens of this twin island state. Many of the changes we need to make are simple and, with everyday practice, can become our way of life.  These include refusing unnecessary bags from retailers, employing reusable bags wherever possible, using filtered water jugs and reusable bottles rather than single-use bottles, choosing biodegradable garbage bags, and depositing post-consumer beverage containers in community recycling bins.

 

Join us on this World Environment Day, and every day going forward, as we explore and adopt the many ways we can beat plastics pollution in Trinidad and Tobago.  If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.

 

“Let’s protect the environment together.”