Governments are beginning to respond as the health of the environment and the people degrades in the Caribbean due to plastic pollution. In order to save their at-risk economies and improve the well-being of the earth, they are enacting legislation that bans single-use plastics and moves them towards a sustainable future.
Starting January 1st, 2020, there will be a ban on the use and import of single-use plastic and polystyrene (Styrofoam) in seven Caribbean countries. The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago are participating in the move towards a plastic-free economy, according to the Yucatan Times. While there are exemptions for some single-use plastics, such as food packaging, trash bags, and plastic needed in the medical industry, this is certainly a step in the right direction.
The Caribbean is one of the world’s greatest plastic polluters. Of the top thirty global polluters per capita, ten are from the Caribbean region, Forbes reports. This is largely due to inadequate waste management systems that are more vulnerable to the impacts of plastic waste. It is estimated that more than 300,000 tons of plastic waste in the Caribbean is not collected each year, and much of it is dumped into the water.
The degradation of marine habitats poses severe health and food risk for about 44 million people living in the region. Some of the significant causes of plastic pollution include disposal and collection issues, waterway contamination, and open burning. In response, countries like the Bahamas are passing suites of environmental legislation that propose wide-ranging protections.
“This suite of legislation indicates to the world that The Bahamas is ready, willing and able to rise to the challenge, meet our international commitments and be a force for good, for the preservation of our global commons; all while sustainably developing our national resources, maintaining environmental integrity and creating economic opportunities for Bahamian citizens and residents alike.” – Bahamas Environment Minister, Romauld Ferriera
Communities all over the world are starting to see and feel the effects of plastic pollution on their health and the environment. In response, more cities and states are enacting bans on single-use plastics and other pollutants that oftentimes end up in waterways. As of June 2019, 14 Caribbean countries–more than a third–had banned the use of single-use plastic bags and/or Styrofoam, according to the World Bank.
For Barbados, this comes as the final step in a three-part ban that was announced in 2018, according to Barbados’ official website. It began with a ban on the importation of single-use plastics on April 1st, 2019. As of July 1st, 2019, the sale and distribution of these plastics were banned. “Finally, effective January 1, 2020, there will be a ban on petrol-based plastic bags, except those used for the packaging of pharmaceuticals, hygiene products, and food preservation.”
“We have said that we want to be fossil fuel free by 2030; we want to have a renewable platform; we want to be a country that when we speak to the world we speak as an environmentally friendly country and destination. These are the things that we must do if our words and our actions are to be aligned.” – Barbados Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, Minister Kirk Humphrey
Marine pollution poses a dire threat to the $57 billion a year coastal tourism industry. The Bahamian government estimates that the current rate of plastic pollution could cause tourism losses of up to $10 million USD per year, the Yucatan Times reports.
Plastic can take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose–time that we don’t have to spare. About 95 percent of the 78 million metric tons of plastic packaging produced each year are single-use, but only 14 percent of it is recycled, according to the World Bank. And although the potential recycling market value of the resource could be $75 billion a year, up to 80 percent of the litter found in our oceans is made of plastic.
The environmental, social and economic impacts of plastics in the environment include contaminated soil and water, choked waterways and flooding, and clogged sewage systems that provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes, according to the UN Environment Program. Waterborne disease transmission increases and visual pollution impacts tourism and recreational activities.
“Our world is swamped by harmful plastic waste. Microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy. From remote islands to the Arctic, nowhere is untouched. If present trends continue, by 2050, our oceans will have more plastic than fish. The message is simple: reject single use plastic. Refuse what you can’t reuse. Together, we can chart a path to a cleaner, greener world,” said United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.