On this week’s SHiFT Community Hub event, we were joined by Round The World crew members for a panel discussion on the challenges that different Caribbean nations are facing and some of the actions being taken to mitigate environmental degradation; joining the panel was founder and director of Impact Blue Foundation, Juliet Carvalhal (Leg 4), marine scientist, La Daana Kanhai (Leg 4), geography teacher/lecturer, Leah Fouchong (Leg 3) and process engineer, Camila De Conto (Leg 6).

Island nations suffer a disproportionate impact of global waste washing ashore, yet also many are taking the lead in creating policy to mitigate their own waste. The panel discussed the challenges that different Caribbean nations are facing and some of the actions being taken to mitigate environmental degradation. 

Below, we’ve illustrated some of the key discussion points from the panel.

The Caribbean Region and its challenges 

  • When we think of the Caribbean, we tend to think about small island states but actually the Caribbean is quite diverse. If you look at the region as a whole, they are right on the path of the hurricanes that form off the coast of Africa, meaning they are having to deal with many different challenges. Making plastic pollution just one of the many challenges they have to deal with.
  • The Caribbean region also relies heavily on importing the majority of their consumption needs and how they process all of that waste becomes a huge challenge, so when we are looking at policy, it’s very important to look at what infrastructure is in place. What are neighbouring islands doing? Collaboration isn’t always easy especially with different political backgrounds, different mother nations. If you look at Saint Martin island specifically, they are composed of a French side and a Dutch side. So there are many challenges when looking at policies and systems they have in place. 
  • Caribbean islands have limited resources, meaning that the economies are heavily dependent on tourism. This places a great reliance on blue economy and on imports.
  • Lack of financing for solid waste management systems has not kept pace with growth in waste quantities. On top of it, natural disasters magnify the waste generation on these islands – and there’s no budget available to tackle the consequences of them (e.g. in 2017, the amount of waste and debris generated overnight by hurricane Irma was equivalent of 2.5 years of waste generation in St. Martin)

What happens to land-based waste in Caribbean countries?

  • Within the Caribbean countries there are curb-side collections of domestic solid waste and communal bins. The waste is sent straight to landfills with no separation. Sadly, not all islands have 100% curb-side collection, largely due to accessibility. This can skew available municipal solid waste (MSW) data per island. Additionally, some islands’ governments charge a small fee for curb-side collection and for private drop off in the landfill but not everyone can afford it. In Trinidad and Tobago there are 3 landfill sites, however limited resources mean that in many cases, these are unlined sites, making them not sanitary landfill sites. Eventually carrying capacity will be reached and more space will be needed.
  • In Aruba, the regional average: 12% of MSW is plastic (source: Worldbank). In Aruba it is 26% while recycling or export for value-recovery accounts for less than 1%. In Curacao the island has 444 km2 and more than 300 illegal dumping sites.
  • Policy designs to curb plastic use and corresponding waste/leakage need to have an island context incorporated and be island-specific based on available infrastructure and capacity for processing (systems or ecosystem approach).

What about marine debris that washes up on our shores? 

Marine debris (or at least some of its components) must be viewed as a ‘green resource’. Instead of a linear economy approach, we’ve got to take a circular economy approach. 

Success stories 

  • One example of a success story that panellist Leah has seen in Trinidad is working towards a circular economy – a company working towards reducing and recycling the waste which is produced by the carnivals. In Trinidad the Carnivals are a big celebration which produces a lot of waste. They are now utilising the beads and feathers left behind and making new items. 
  • Another example of a success story comes from panellist Camila; she has been helping small companies become more sustainable. Camila started educating children in schools about plastic waste but also educates employees in small and big companies. She has been educating employees about what is sustainability, what is the problem with waste, why we should start reducing our waste. Camila is trying to fill the gap they didn’t have in their education. So when their children have learnt about plastic waste at school, they too have learnt about plastic waste and this hopefully will change whole family views and their habits with plastic. 

What does your community need? 

  • Camila – “To work in the policies of the plastic ban.”
  • Juliet – “Being part of the OTT, funding is always a challenge. I would love to expand the foundation, to get more people involved. I feel like the foundation could do a lot more if they had the funding to implement the solutions.”
  • Leah – “Funding is a big problem, especially as a NGO but also working together as a Caribbean. Small island developing states would benefit hugely from sharing ideas, as our challenges are very similar so working together to find solutions would be hugely beneficial.”
  • La danna – “We have many willing people, many students, but we can’t underscore the importance of resources. To implement a solution you have to have science that clearly outlines the problem. We need access to the equipment and to lab facilities, one way around this is collaboration.”

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Thank you to 11th Hour Racing who are supporting this work.