Jean Antoine-Dunne writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
“We are in a war for the very existence of life on our planet as we know it,” stated French President Emmanuel Macron at the One Planet Summit on Climate Change in Paris last week. He added, “The challenge of our generation is to act.” In other words, the time for mere talk has ended.
Significantly though, “the leaders at the summit meeting did not announce new binding requirements to curb carbon emissions and did not unlock significant new funds to help developing countries transition away from fossil fuel economies” and “critics called the announcements a vague laundry list of promises” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/world/europe/macron-climate-summit).
The fact that heads of multinational corporations and businesses such as Bill Gates attended this summit, however, means that despite the fact that no money has been put on the table, those who do actually run the world see this as a deeply serious issue. Donald Trump did not attend the Paris Summit.
While world leaders debated this dire situation, we in Trinidad were still squabbling about whether we should invest in recycling our plastic. While much of the world has banned the use of plastic bags in shops or taxed them and put surcharges on excessive waste to discourage people from simply dumping recyclable material which includes paper and plastic, we dither.
The first and simple step that needs to be taken is placing recycle bins in every area of the country, so that informed citizens can dispose of their recyclable waste and companies can collect that waste. According to the Plastikeep website, there are companies in Trinidad that recycle paper, cardboard, glass, computers, light bulbs, cellphones and monitors. A second obvious strategy would be the provision of incentives for the development of companies that specialise in waste recycling.
It is however true that people only appreciate what they have to pay for. Like Caribbean Airlines, those in authority may end up having to make the consumer pay for being unconcerned and irresponsible. If the consumer continues to ignore the need to separate cans and paper and plastic from non-usable dump then the household should be penalised.
First, there must be a workable system regulated by corporations in order to resolve a situation that is fast becoming a menace.
There is more, however, since we cannot assume that everything that appears to be recyclable is actually so. For example, despite the fact that plastic bottles are recyclable, their caps are not. The complexity of the issue demands that manufacturers label their packaging and become part of the movement to use only material that may be recycled. Until then, we as consumers simply have to avoid packaging that is not reusable. Introducing recycling also means educating the population.
In Trinidad and Tobago, which has prime natural resources that include our sea turtle beds in Matura and Grand Riviere, stringent measures are needed to prevent their destruction. Turtles consume plastics that look like jelly fish and then choke to death. Birds are equally vulnerable.
Why does the Trinidad and Tobago Government not take a determined and consistent stand in this matter, if not to protect the world, then our own little patch of Earth?
Is it possible that the ministry responsible for sustainable living and planning could instal bins specifically labelled as recyclable all around the country? We could begin at our rivers and beaches with special bins for drink cans and plastic bottles so that this material can be exported, or reused here, in what is fast becoming a highly lucrative business across the globe, with China leading the way.
Could we also begin by using the organic material that we dump, including grass cuttings, vegetation and paper for compost?
As Christmas approaches the amount of cardboard, cans and bottles ready for disposal will be enormous. Perhaps this is a good a time for the Government to give a truly sustainable gift to the nation by developing and implementing a plan for managing such reusable products.