Message from the Minister of Planning and Development, on the occasion of World Environment Day 2018

As Minister with responsibility for the Environment I am pleased to join the rest of the world in celebration of World Environment Day 2018 where we recognise our connection to our own local ecosystems and to the wider biosphere of our planet. As we unite today on June 5th, we reflect on this year’s theme of World Environment Day “Beat Plastic Pollution” which not only calls the people from all over the world to come together and combat single-use plastic pollution but also highlights the interconnectedness of the various elements of the environment, and that by one making small modifications in our individual spaces we can create a tidal wave of change.
 
While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. On a global scale up to 5 trillion plastic bags are used each year and 1 million plastic bottles are bought every minute. 50% of consumer plastics are single use and 10% of all human-generated waste is plastic.
 
Every year Trinidad and Tobago generates scores of thousands of plastic bottles, plastic bags and single use items such as straws, forks and spoons as waste. The main household waste streams in Trinidad and Tobago consist of organic material (27.15%), plastics (19.17%), paper (18.77%) and glass (10.15%).
 
Most of these waste materials, plastics especially, end up as pollution within our waterways. This leads to clogging of these channels leading to flooding and the spread of vector borne diseases. A large number of these items also make their way into the marine environment and become marine trash. Marine trash is a critical issue as these materials have varying rates of decomposition. It is estimated to take 100 years for plastic to degrade in the environment. Once in the environment, plastics don’t go away, they simply get smaller and smaller, last a century or more and increasingly find their way into our food chain.
 
Apart from being an eyesore, this debris may also meander thousands of miles from its origin, affecting far-off locations. More importantly, this marine pollution threatens human health, wildlife, communities and economies globally, regionally and on the local scale. It estimates that globally 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastics each year.
Plastic pollution is a defining environmental challenge for our time. In the next 10-15 years global plastic production is projected to nearly double. Avoiding the worst of these outcomes demands a complete rethinking of the way we produce, use and manage plastic. As citizens we must exercise our power as consumers. We must become the drivers of change by turning down plastic straws and cutlery, cleaning beaches and coastlines, and reconsidering purchasing habits at the supermarket.
 
The Government has placed special emphasis on ensuring the sustainable management of the environment enshrined in the National Development Strategy (2016-2030), Vision 2030, which places the Environment at the centre of our country’s Social and Economic Development. Waste is specifically addressed in Goal 4 of Theme V which states that ‘Comprehensive waste and pollution management systems will be created’. This is even further described in the revised draft National Environmental Policy (NEP 2018) which recognises the major driver of solid waste generation to be unsustainable consumption patterns and inefficient use of resources in the production of goods and services.
There are also two sub-sector policies which address waste management and which are also aligned to Vision 2030 and the National Environment Policy. These Policies are:
  • the National Waste Recycling Policy which provides guidance for the creation of an enabling legislative and administrative framework to facilitate the recovery and recycling of materials from the waste stream thereby reducing the quantity of waste requiring final disposal, minimizing the impact of waste on human health and the environment, and to improve resource use efficiency.; and
  • the Integrated Solid Waste/Resource Management Policy which advocates that waste be managed in an integrated waste management system that minimizes land-filling, with an increased focus on reduction of toxicity and volume of waste, through reuse, recycling and source-separated organic waste management.
 
Aside from creating the right Policy Framework to address plastic pollution and waste, the Government is also actively encouraging the recycling and waste through the iCare Programme which is a national recycling initiative lead by the EMA. The Project began in 2015 and is geared towards Public Education and the establishment of infrastructure to support the Government’s recycling initiatives.
 
These are but a few of the initiatives which have met with success, but in reality we have only just begun. Occasions such as World Environment Day present us with an excellent opportunity to educate, to reason together and to explore the options and the practical solutions available to us to change the way we live, to allow us in harmony with our natural environment.
 
Without a doubt, the changes we desire to see for the planet begins not only with actions of the Government but with the response of each individual. Every citizen must play their part, and even though plastic is found in virtually everything these days, there are simple steps one can take that will dramatically decrease the amount of plastic waste generated:
  • Reduce the use of single use plastics: straws, plastic cutlery
  • Reduce the use of plastic bags (carry a reusable bag to the supermarket)
  • Buy produce from boxes instead not bottles (e.g dish soap or laundry detergent)
  • Reuse glass containers
  • Use reusable bottles and cups
  • Choose environmentally friendly food and beverage packaging
 
Choices we make today will chart the course of our future.
 
I wish to once again highlight the theme chosen for World Environment Day 2018 “Beat Plastic Pollution” and remind you, our real success lies in the capacity of every citizen to become informed and take personal responsibility for their actions in respect of the preservation, conservation and wise use of our environment, without which, this and future generations will be severely compromised. Remember Environmental Pride is National Pride!
 

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