As a waste educator, I take the responsibility of teaching you how to manage your waste quite seriously. In fact, I would not be doing it if I thought it wasn’t extremely important to do. The irony is this, I am also a consumer who is faced with the same questions and options as you when I go to the grocery store, the mall, or food court. As much as I encourage you to separate your recyclables at source (mainly at home or in the office), or take them to the nearest recycling bin, it is not lost on me that your options are indeed limited. But the fact is, I cannot continue to encourage you to do those activities without recognizing these and other constraints. The point is, solving the immense plastic problem is NOT entirely up to you!
In Trinidad and Tobago, you can only realistically collect plastics #1 and #2 which are typically beverage containers to be recycled. All the others are not recycled locally. Check out my last blog and recycling guide here.
There are two main things I see that we absolutely need to help solve the plastic crisis in Trinidad and Tobago:
- Make the collection of recyclables mandatory – Since we already have a collection mechanism with beverage container recyclables, it presents a great place to start. They can be plastics 1 and 2, food-grade and beverage glass, aluminium cans, and tetra paks (juice and milk boxes)
- Make the producers of the plastics responsible and accountable for what they make and how it affects the environment – The term for this is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) or the Polluter-Pays Principle.
What is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)?
According to Brittanica.com, extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a practice and policy approach in which producers take responsibility for the management of the disposal of products they produce once those products are designated as no longer useful by consumers (Surak, 2018).” In other words, you made it, it is your responsibility to have it disposed of in the right way! Solving this immense plastic probelm is not entirely up to you and you alone.
It shifts the economic burden of the cost of disposal from the government to the producer of the product. It means that the product must be designed for recyclability while at the same time discouraging the use of toxic components. This will most certainly create a demand for environmental products that can easily be recycled. I say that last part with caution though as the goal should always be to make less waste rather than to make more products that cannot be immediately dealt with or within the shortest time frame. Here sits the concept and practice of the circular economy. Read a bit about it here
I say all of that to say this, I am not underscoring the role that you have to play in how your waste is managed but I am saying that it is not your burden alone to bear. All of the players (government, manufacturers, consumers, civil society, citizenry) must get involved to truly handle this problem with plastics. But still, do what you can, where you can, with what you have.
Remember, 99 is not 100, just one can STILL make a difference.
Surak, S. M. (2018, December 5). extended producer responsibility. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/extended-producer-responsibility