After 22 years of passing the buck, the government has failed to pass the Beverage Container Bill which was intended to provide a structure for the collection and safe disposal of beverage containers. Their collective incompetence has facilitated the degradation of our environment, the clogging of our waterways, and litter on our footpaths, streets, rivers and streams.
But what about the manufacturers of the beverages we purchase? What is their responsibility?
During the short 22 years of the rise of the bottled water culture, a few manufacturers have become multi-millionaires while presiding over the destruction of our island’s ecosystem. And during this time, WASA continued to shame us by their underperformance.
If the beverage container tsars cared about our country, they would have established the infrastructure to take care of the recycling of the plastic bottles which house their products. Instead, they sit on their hands waiting for the government to act.
According to the website of one such company: ‘The vision for the company is to provide one bottle a day of high-quality healthy beverages to every man, woman, and child in the English-speaking Caribbean.’
With a regional population of some seven million and a conservative estimate of one dollar profit on each bottle that is a daily profit of TT$7,000,000.
How much more money do you need?
In a Parliamentary debate in 2012, then Senator Faris Al-Rawi, the current attorney general, laid out the business case for a recycling business when he said: ‘If you do any conservative extrapolation of the numbers and you look at an average between 25 cents and one dollar, and you take it at 75 cents for plastic bottles alone, Mr President, you are looking at a half-a-billion-dollar industry for plastics alone.
‘Add on to that cans, add on to that packages by Nestlé, et cetera, anything that is a beverage under the terms of the Bill, you are looking at a billion-dollar industry.’
What is needed to solve this problem is a system and a process to incentivise the collection and recycling of beverage containers, especially plastics. The current players in the market have the expertise, competence and experiences to take advantage of this business opportunity but they just don’t care. And the government is happy to pussyfoot around while our island deteriorates.
The public is not without responsibility for the degradation of the condition of our island but we know that punitive measures seldom work. What is needed is the system, structure and process to make it easy for us to be part of recycling activities.
While our island continues to be covered with trash, here are three things I would love to see us do to help solve this wicked yet very preventable behavioural problem.
Firstly, find a reusable bottle; especially if you are going to exercise, then you will not be tempted to just throw away the bottle. More importantly, you will also be assured that the water you are drinking is free of microplastics.
A second though probably more important measure we can embrace is to separate all our plastics and take them to a neighbourhood recycling bin. Separating at home can go a long way towards preventing plastics from entering our waterways, rivers and streams, and also teach children that reusable is more desirable than disposable.
A third measure focuses on women and the shift towards reusable sanitary napkins and pads for menstruation.
Everyone has a part to play but bottled water is our biggest culprit and it’s time for the bottled water tsars to show that their caring includes taking leadership in the recycling sector.
Sherri Mason, a sustainability researcher at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College commented: “If we took what we spend on bottled water just in the US and we used that instead on water infrastructure, every person on this planet could have access to clean water three times over.”
Her essential point, I am sure, is also valid for Trinidad and Tobago.