In 2016, plastic waste amounted to nearly 242 million metric tons globally. Out of this, 137 million tonnes i.e. over 57% originated in East Asia, the Pacific, Europe, Central Asia, and North America, the majority of which ended up in the ocean. The Journal of Science surveyed 192 coastal countries in 2015 and confirmed that Asian countries, particularly China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, were among 13 of the 20 biggest contributors of marine plastic waste. But these numbers alone do not tell the entire story.
Consider the little island of St. Lucia, which was found to produce the 6th largest amount of plastic waste per capita in the Caribbean and generated over four times the amount of plastic waste per person as China which is considered the world’s largest plastic polluter in absolute terms. The tiny island is also responsible for 1.2 times more inappropriately disposed plastic waste per capita than China. This was reported by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser for ourworldindata portal.
Among the top thirty global polluters per capita, ten nations belong to the Caribbean region namely Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, Guyana, Barbados, St. Lucia, Bahamas, Grenada, Anguilla, and Aruba. Moreover, these ten island nations generate more plastic debris annually than the weight of 20,000 space shuttles.
The biggest offender is Trinidad & Tobago, which produces an enormous 1.5 kilograms of waste per capita every day, definitely the largest in the world. A minimum of 0.19 kg of plastic debris per person per day from Trinidad & Tobago is almost guaranteed to make its way into the ocean due to improper disposal, resulting in more marine plastic waste originating in Trinidad & Tobago (per capita) than 98% of the countries in the world. (2010)
Inadequate and improper waste management is the root cause of the problem. Across a sample of Caribbean nations, an estimated 322,745 tons of plastic remains uncollected each year, resulting in 22% of households disposing waste in waterways or on land where it can sooner or later end up in waterways (World Bank). As per the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 92% of marine litter in the Caribbean comes from land-based sources, in comparison with the global average of 80%. (2014)
In July 2019, Parley for the Oceans, an NGO shared an alarming video depicting huge amounts of plastic off the coast of the Dominican Republic. The video was captioned, “After three days of cleanups we have intercepted over 30 tonnes of plastic, but there is a lot more work to be done.”
This is the Plastic Tide! We witnessed a similar situation in Puerto Plata while working with @mariposadrfoundation and @changingtidesfoundation this spring. Wish we were there to pitch in with this clean-up effort! #REPOST from @parley.tv – PLASTIC EMERGENCY ALERTWe need a wave of change and a material revolution. Here’s the story behind this haunting video.It was taken in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, where Parley and collaborators are working hand in hand with the military and the city council. Over 500 public workers have been mobilized for this cleanup operation.After three days of cleanups we have intercepted over 30 tons of plastic, but there is a lot more work to be done.This Saturday, #CoronaxParley will host a cleanup at the beach – DM us if you are on the island and would like to get involved. Wherever you are in the world, you can be part of the solution:#ParleyAIR: Avoid. Intercept. Redesign.#firstname.lastname@example.org @corona @sustainablecoastlineshawaii
Posted by Plastic Tides on Tuesday, July 17, 2018
From 2006 to 2012, UNEP marine cleanup data for the Wider Caribbean Region determined that a total of 3,990,120 plastic debris items were removed from coastal and underwater sites, spread across 2,317 miles.
For a coastal region that depends on the Caribbean Sea for over $400 billion in income per year, the 18 billion pounds of plastic pollution that are discarded into the ocean annually is a real and dangerous threat.
National Geographic says, “the Caribbean Sea’s $5 billion annual trade, it’s 200,000 direct jobs, its 100,000 ancillary services, food security for 40 million coastal inhabitants, and over $2 billion in dive tourism [are] at risk.”
The 14 Caribbean countries have now started addressing this threat by banning single-use plastic bags and/or Styrofoam and by implementing additional civic education programs. A number of innovative approaches have been developed to manage plastic waste through reusing and repurposing. Since 2017, Hewlett Packard has manufactured ink cartridges from in excess of a million pounds of recycled plastic bottles from Haiti while the NGO Parley for the Oceans has been busy cleaning up coastal waters and repurposing plastic marine debris into a fiber known as Parley Ocean Plastic used to make fashion items such as clothes, bags, and shoes.
However, the fact remains that the most significant change will occur only when waste management and waste infrastructures like garbage collection, recycling centers, and secure landfills are upgraded. A study published by the Ocean Cleanup Foundation reported that mismanaged plastic waste generated annually could triple by 2060 if these systems are not improved to required standards.
Such high scale increase in plastic pollution will disproportionately affect the Caribbean as these small coastal communities that subsist on ocean-dependent economies, are presently fraught with inadequate waste management systems. This makes them more vulnerable to the adversities of plastic waste than their larger, more industrialized counterparts.