A Possible Answer To Plastic Garbage On Bajan Beaches


Biodegradable Plastics – Can We Legislate The Solution?

The tourists at the Hilton and Accra Hotels stroll out onto pristine beaches every morning – dragging kids, sunblock and the latest John Grisham novel onto the clean sand where they plunk themselves down for another day in paradise. The Brits and Canadians always politely start their drink requests with something like “May I trouble you for…” while the friendly Yanks mostly yell a version of “Hey there, little lady. Howse about one of them there pineapple rum drinks with the little umbrellas?”

According to our friend Clive, the Germans have a very different style.

But they all share the same misperception that our tourist beaches are somehow representative of beaches throughout the island. They don’t realize that the clean up crew has been out at 5am to make everything just so – which is just good business as we want those folks to return home with memories of beautiful Barbados.

A walk on a “real” Barbados beach can be a different experience, especially after a bit of wind. In a word: Plastic. Plastic from all over the world floats onto our beaches – bottles, lines, nets, flipflops, shopping bags, Barbie dolls without heads, food containers, footballs and just about anything else made of plastic can be found at the high-water mark.

And it is not just the beaches where the plastic garbage is a problem. Even miles out to sea, it sometimes seems that we are fishing in the middle of a floating garbage dump. Last May, one of our friends lost an engine when some floating plastic line got sucked into the water impeller. Before he realized it, the cooling intake became blocked and the engine cooked. (Never mind that he should have been looking once in a while at those funny little round dials that say “engine temp”!)

Landfills Full Of Plastic Garbage

Barbados and other Caribbean countries bury tonnes and tonnes of plastic garbage at landfills, but new biodegradable plastics could take off some of the pressure. Some jurisdictions have mandated the use of biodegradable plastics, and we say that it is about time Barbados did so as well.

On Tuesday evening, the ACP/EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly at the Hilton heard from a manufacturer of biodegradable plastics. The Barbados Advocate carried the story Biodegradable Plastics A Solution To Overflowing Landfills, and we also found an excellent article at Wired Magazine: Two Words: Biodegradable Plastic.

How About It, Environment Minister Thompson?

Do you have the leadership necessary for Barbados to mandate biodegradable plastics in appropriate applications?

BFP Photo by Shona – Accra Beach after a storm.


Filed under Barbados, Environment

15 responses to “A Possible Answer To Plastic Garbage On Bajan Beaches

  1. Green!

    Talk to the international plastics industry about making new plastics
    that specifically bio-degrade
    in the presence of sea water

  2. Why not just ship the garbage to some third world country in exchange for some sacks of rice?

  3. Anonymous-

    They take a picture of a beach after a storm and expect it not to have garbage on the sand?

  4. BFP

    Yes, that’s correct Anonymous. We took a picture to illustrate all the plastic that’s floating around out there just offshore.

    But your hate of BFP has made you lose the point of the article.

    So what do you say? Should the government mandate the use of biodegradable plastics where circumstances warrant… or should we continue to let only the corporations and the marketplace decide what is good for Barbados?


    Can’t hear you!

  5. Hants

    Sorry to go off topic buy BFP read Nationnews.com

    LICKMOUT LOU: Reply to Beresford

  6. BFP

    Hi Hants…

    Can’t get out right now cause I’m it for tonight. What’s LML say generally?

  7. ….because they are stupid “Anonymous-“…..wait a minute, what storm?

  8. BFP

    Oh… on the net. I’ll check. thx

  9. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » Barbados: Biodegrdable plastic?

  10. Observer

    Doan mind wuh get wash up by de waves. Nuf, nuf lef back by de nasty people that does drop dem garbage pon de groun an lef um so, doan care wuh part dem does happen to be.

  11. Pat

    I brought home some biodegradeable plastic from my Chinese grocer last week. Written on the green plastic bag was ” biodegradeable – will completely disintegrate in 18 months!”. I put one in the composter, just to see if it will take a whole 18 months, or whether it will go faster.

  12. A few points from someone who has spent years covering waste and recycling issues, particularly in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) context (I literally wrote the book on the subject!).

    The trash on the beach is a **litter** issue. I’m not sure how mandating biodegradable plastics will really help that. Yes, it will degrade eventually — but it will still be litter and an eyesore for months if carelessly discarded. So if you want to clean up the beaches , you need to do far more than simply mandate biodegradable materials.

    I would suggest starting by doing a careful census of what the beach and marine litter is composed of and its probable sources. The only thing close to that which I’ve seen is the tally done in the context of the Coastal Clean-up Day [see http://www.temasactuales.com/temasblog/wp-content/Images/BARdebris.jpg ], which suggests that cups, plates and utensils are the biggest culprit (23.7%), followed by food wrappers (20.3%), caps and lids (14.1%), plastic bags (11.8%) and plastic beverage bottles (7%).

    Then consider how best to counter the litter problems identified. Just which strategy would work best depends on local conditions and local political climate; there is no single “magic solution” no matter what “experts” might tell you. It could be any combination/mix of targeted ban on certain packaging materials or forms, targeted taxes (example: reportedly the plastic bag tax has worked in Ireland), meaningful litter fines (backed by real enforcement, or else they are pointless), deposit/return (perhaps for the plastic bottles), take-back, so forth.

    Or you can try avenues that don’t require command-and-control from the government. For example, Blue Flag-certified beaches must maintain their beaches clean or lose their certification [ http://www.temasactuales.com/temasblog/?p=34 ]. I’ve seen examples of a community association formed by concerned local small businesses working with local mayors to very effectively clean up their local beaches — see the example of Cabrera Verde in the DR [see http://www.dr1.com/blogs/entry.php?u=environment&e_id=1545 ].

    What ever strategy(ies) chosen, always include a strong and steady educational/awareness-building component, or it will not be sustainable.

    As for biodegradable plastics helping save space in the landfill (a claim made by the industry person in the Barbados Advocate article), I find that claim suspect on several levels. First off, studies (over decades and in many different countries and contexts) have repeatedly shown that once placed into a landfill, most materials degrade extremely slowly, if at all. This includes newspapers and paper packaging, reputedly highly biodegradable yet one can find nearly whole copies of newspapers from decades past in landfills. If you truly wish for those plastics to fully degrade, you need to mandate that they all go into compost bins, perferably after first being shredded or grounded.

    Second, the types of plastics which tend to take up landfill space — beverage containers, detergent and bleach bottles, large plastic moldings, etc. — are usually poor candidates for biodegradable materials. Take soft drink bottles, for example. These have to be able to stay on the grocery store shelves for weeks or months, so how to properly “program” their biodegradation as the company claims it can do?

    Anyway, I’ve probably gone on too long already. The essential point I wish to make is that I’ve seen several jurisdictions try mandating biodegradability as the “answer” to litter, only to realize later that such a measure by itself does very little to resolve the problem.

    Keith Ripley
    Author, “Solid Wastes and Recycling in Latin America & the Caribbean: Trends & Policies” (2002)

  13. Hi Keith

    thanks for your intervention amongst those decadent comments.
    As you might agree the key is education. First off, people must get guidance about how to respect our planet in order to respect themselves .There’s still something to do but you need to be strong and willing to articulate in life in a different way !
    Become an Ocean Defender !
    Save our Seas!

  14. Environmental Plastics Solutions Conference

    We welcome you to attend presentations on the most recent innovations and solutions in the biodegradable plastics market. Topics will include: plastics sustainability, biodegredation testing, recent legislation, and more! The conference is September 20 & 21, 2010.

    Register here: http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e2z3jhdkf2007923