Terrike Brown | Pollution pandemic
Over the years, Jamaica has been plagued by poor environmental practices. This has given rise to a society that is now facing a pollution pandemic that poses serious health and safety hazards to the well-being of all Jamaicans.
As we grapple with this reality, especially in light of climate-change concerns, it has become necessary for Jamaica to swiftly adopt a recycling policy for plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles that will encourage social responsibility, while significantly reducing or eliminating environmental threats that could have irreversible and damning effects on the state of our economy.
This policy focuses primarily on the recycling of plastic bottles; it should not be read as a policy that negates the importance of other waste-management initiatives such as the banning of styrofoam products and plastic bags. However, given the overwhelming and persistent challenge of plastic bottle waste, this policy proposes feasible short-term and long-term solutions that will arrest this problem through incentivised public participation and public-private partnership. Nevertheless, the main concern in this regard is the difficulty of policy to influence social and cultural behavioural practices as it relates to poor environmental practices. As social scientists can attest, behavioural changes occur over a long period.
PLASTIC BOTTLE HAZARD
Jamaicans are estimated to throw away one million plastic bottles each month, much of which end up in rivers and gullies. It takes an average of 450 years for plastic to begin to decompose. The practice of dumping garbage in drains and gullies, as well as the burning of biohazardous materials, including tyres, plastic and styrofoam, has resulted in devastating conditions which need urgent policy attention.
A Deposit-Refund Scheme policy appropriately aligns with Goal 4 of Vision 2030, which focuses on the effective management of the country's natural resources to ensure the continued provision of essential environmental services and the design of environmental policies that internalise the cost of pollution and environmental damage into the production costs of all economic activities.
A deposit/refund scheme includes legislation that requires the producers/importers of a particular package to include a deposit in the price of their product. They must then take back the empty container and refund the deposit to the consumer/retailer.
Globally, deposit-refund schemes are seen as best practices in the recycling of plastic bottles and other beverage containers. Countries have reported compliance and recovery rates between 70 and 80 per cent. This policy fills critical gaps within the existing solid waste-management legislative framework that is severely lacking in compliance.
The National Solid Waste Management Act (2001) treats specifically with the issue of recycling of waste under Part V, Section 42. The legislation promotes the sorting of waste and may choose to partner with entities in providing receptacles for recycling.
As an alternative option, this policy contends that conveniently placed receptacles for plastic bottles across the island could yield success, as evident by similar recycling programmes at the University of the West Indies, as well as other institutions. However, the feasibility of such initiatives on a national scale could prove administratively and economically challenging because of the Government's lack of resources.
Plastic bottle pollution has become a nuisance the world over, as beverage producers resort to the use of plastic as a cheaper and more convenient alternative to materials such as glass. Unfortunately, plastic bottle waste continues to make its way into landfills and waterways.
Therefore, lawmakers in major cities are now faced with the task of regulating plastic bottle waste, which has become an environmental and public-health crisis. Consequently, government action is necessary to maintaining public interest while ensuring corporate social responsibility. In this regard, a deposit/refund scheme is an excellent tool to implement extended producer responsibility in phases.
VULNERABLE SMALL ISLANDS
Environmental concerns are particularly important to small island developing states (SIDs) like Jamaica because of our vulnerability to climate change. Goal 13 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlights that climate change presents the single biggest threat to development, and its widespread, unprecedented impacts disproportionately burden the poorest and most vulnerable.
Therefore, it has become most pressing that steps be taken to domesticate regulations that would address the behavioural gaps and encourage personal responsibility for proper environmental practices such as recycling, which is crucial to Jamaica's sustainability.