Seventy to eighty-five per cent of marine litter in the Caribbean Sea comes from land, and most of it consists of plastics. Together with agrochemical run-off and domestic wastewater, it is one of three priority pollutants for the wider Caribbean region.
Governments are taking note. Throughout the region, many have banned, or are considering bans on single-use plastics, including plastic bags and Styrofoam.
Antigua and Barbuda led the charge in 2016 with a five-phased approach to getting rid of plastics. Following extensive consultation with stakeholders, they decided to incorporate the ban into existing legislation rather than create new laws. They then ran the campaign “Make a difference one bag at a time”, and listed government-approved alternatives such as bagasse. As a result of these actions, the proportion of plastic dumped at landfills declined from 19.5 per cent in 2006 to 4.4 per cent in 2017.
The momentum continues. In Jamaica, for instance, this year banned the use of single-use plastic bags, and will end the use and sale of styrofoam boxes as of January 2020. More than 18 territories have banned single-use plastics or Styrofoam products, while three countries have introduced bans at local levels, two have announced bans to begin in 2020 and 2021, 14 are discussing it within government and four have begun public consultations.
The environmental, social and economic impacts of plastics in the environment are well known: waterways get choked and flood more often, and sewage systems become clogged, providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes and raising the risk of transmission of waterborne diseases like dengue; plastics enter the food chain through contaminated soil and water; and visual pollution impacts tourism and recreational activities.
As our awareness of its effects increases, however, the convenience of plastic seems less and less attractive. Several awareness campaigns have sprung up in the past few year, calling governments and citizens to action.
“Our world is swamped by harmful plastic waste. Microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy. From remote islands to the Artic, nowhere is untouched. If present trends continue, by 2050, our oceans will have more plastic than fish. The message is simple: reject single use plastic. Refuse what you can’t reuse. Together, we can chart a path to a cleaner, greener world,” said United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.