Beverage containers receiving the urgent attention of Planning Ministry

One significant contributor to the amount of waste heading to the landfill is beverage containers, used particularly in the packaging of food and drinks. Improper disposal of beverage containers impact negatively both on the economy and the environment, and this is especially the case with plastic and expanded polystyrene containers as, given their non-biodegradable nature, such impact is lasting.
 
In Trinidad and Tobago, one obvious example of the negative impact of irresponsible beverage container disposal is flooding, resulting from the clogging of our waterways by such container waste. To the extent possible therefore, mechanisms have to be put in place to encourage the reuse and/or recycling of container waste and to discourage the wasteful, unsanitary and environmentally degrading practice of disposing of empty beverage containers into the environment. One such mechanism that has been under development for several years is the placement of an economic value on such waste to encourage its environmentally sound disposal through the establishment of a deposit-refund system. The force of law to enable the implementation of the deposit-refund system is the Beverage Containers Bill which has been under development since the year 2000.
The use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) containers in the food and beverage industry has also been receiving the attention of the global and national community, not only for its negative environmental impacts also because of health concerns.  Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam is typically produced for use as cheap, disposable food ware (cups, plates, food containers, etc.). Despite the benefits of this material, there have been several negative issues highlighted from its use and manufacture, which has led to it being banned in several regional and international countries.
 
Minister Robinson-Regis wants to assert to the public that Government has recognized the issue as a multi-faceted one that requires consideration be given to the potential impact of a complete ban on local manufacturers.  Accordingly, the Ministry of Planning and Development has begun the collection of data relevant to EPS and its use, as well as possible alternatives, and is in active consultation with several key stakeholders, including those involved in the expanded polystyrene (EPS) industry and sustainable packaging. She noted that a Multi-Stakeholder Working Group had been established to clearly analyse the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts before the strategy for moving forward is detailed.
 
She concluded by reiterating Government’s commitment to ensuring the well-being of all citizens, but noted the need to balance that against the need to work towards the phasing out of expanded polystyrene (EPS) food and beverage containers  as expeditiously as possible and with due diligence.
 
In this light, the Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL) is to be re-purposed to become a Waste Recycling Authority as the Government moves to change the population’s waste disposal habits. Noting that 75% of the waste being disposed at the country’s landfills is recyclable material, Minister of Planning and Development, the Honourable Camille Robins-Regis indicated that the Government has taken the decision to modify the role and function of SWMCOL to undertake those of a Waste Recycling Authority in addition to its current functions.
 
In order for SWMCOL to function as this new entity, a new organizational structure will be developed to re-define the new roles within the company. Through this approach, waste will not only been seen as burden to our society but as a valuable resource. It will also stimulate the development of lucrative downstream waste recycling industries nationally, encouraging entrepreneurs, creating jobs and protecting human health and the environment.
 
According to Minister Robinson-Regis, whose Planning Ministry has oversight of the environment; data on the waste entering the country's landfills indicate that a significant amount of recyclable materials is being disposed. According to the Final Report of the Trinidad Solid Waste Management Program Waste Characterization and Centroid Study (2010), the main household waste streams consist of organic material (27.15%), plastics (19.17%), paper (18.77%) and glass (10.15%). However, since there is no segregation of waste in households, these recyclable wastes are destined for our landfills located in Claxton Bay, Guanapo and Beetham, which are all reaching their capacity. The removal of recyclable materials through a structured waste recovery programme can therefore increase the life of our landfills.