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Life Among the Trash

Sunday, March 12, 2017

We are fed up of a life among trash. Ban styrofoam. Introduce a deposit on plastic bottles, separate and recycle waste and start a mass education campaign against littering.

The citizens of Trinidad and Tobago no longer want to live in a labasse. Enough is enough. The Beverage Container Bill was first proposed 17 years ago but nothing ever comes of it. Millions are spent on studies to recycle waste and clean up the dumps but they only benefit consultancy firms.

Last week one person decided she could do something about it. Anika Mathur-Mohammed is T&T newest anti-litter activist. She started an online petition to ban styrofoam containers that reignited the discussion about styrofoam and plastic waste. Some call that clicktivism. I call it taking action and action is all that is required for one to be an activist.

We must all become activists. Fight for our country’s well-being. It doesn’t matter what you do. No form of activism is superior to another. Wear a T-shirt that says “leave she alone”, lead a climate change march, save a turtle, feed the homeless, help a needy person across the street. Just do something. Action becomes habit, habit becomes character and if we change our characters we can change our country.

Maybe it is time to found a Green Party in T&T. The establishment parties do not share the environmental aspirations of the people. If they do, they do not show it. Every single environmental desire gets brushed aside or shouted down. That won’t do anymore.

Minister Robinson-Regis of Planning and Development - that’s the ministry that has the Environment hidden away in it somewhere - went on record the day after the petition launch to announce that she’s in favour of a styrofoam ban but that stakeholders have to be consulted first. The stakeholders of course are the manufacturers of styrofoam products and their employees. Livelihoods are at stake. That’s fair but there needs to be a timeline of no more than 12 months.

We must remind the minister that it’s not just the styrofoam manufacturers whose bottom line should to be considered. Every day that styrofoam continues to pollute the country it results in losses for everybody else. The tourism sector suffers when visitors come here and figure that they must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in the labasse. What’s the word of mouth value of that?

Wildlife suffers when animals mistake styrofoam for food and ingests it. Toxins accumulate on styrofoam microplastics and enter the food chain via the fish we eat. We all suffer when the dumps burn and we inhale the dioxins from burning styrofoam and other plastics.

Styrofoam forms a burden to those same dumps because it cannot be recycled economically. I don’t know what per centage of our overcapacity dumps are composed of styrofoam but in the US it up to 30 per cent.

But let’s not forget simple aesthetics. It’s just nasty. We who live here have to deal with filth every day. T&T looks horrible and uncared for with all the trash lying everywhere. If the country was a house we’d say that it must be the home of a junkie or deranged person.

Just show some leadership and do the right thing. The companies that now make styrofoam will make something else. There are many alternatives. It’s not as if people will stop buying takeaway food, there will always be a market for disposable containers. Set a date, 12 months from now, for the ban to become active. That will give all manufacturers time to retool and rebrand.

The country will release a collective sigh of relief and be full of praise. There have been many broken promises by various governments. Do not expect any praise before the job is done. Prove to us that you stand with the people, that you are one of us, and that you love this country as much as we do, because we are in doubt. This is not an unreasonable feeling nor is it an unreasonable demand.

We know the effect of an unkempt environment on human behaviour. The broken window theory shows that areas that are not cared for signal that it’s okay to litter more and break the law. What about the effect on children’s minds when they are constantly told that Trinbagonians are a nasty people? They look around them and it is confirmed: “Yes, we are nasty”. Litter breaks our nation’s psyche.

We need positive action. The litter problem is solvable. It’s about education, simple logistics and economic incentives like the bottle deposit. Little Grenada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have joined the growing number of places that have either banned styrofoam or announced styrofoam bans. Guyana has done so too. They are tiny countries with a fraction of our resources. They put us to shame. Why can’t T&T ever be one of the countries that do good things? More activists, less trash.


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