For people of an island depending on the sea for much of their livelihood, the ocean-polluting practices of Barbadians can best be described as surprising and alarming.
Occupants on this rock have for centuries inculcated into their culture use of the sea for bathing and relaxation on its shores, while harvesting a variety of marine life as a main part of their diet, then for just about half a century began using these water resources as a means of national income, to the extent that it is now a principal foreign exchange earner through tourism.
In spite of the importance of the sea, inhabitants annually consume millions of non-degenerating single-use plastic bags and straws, most of which is washed into the ocean endangering the sea life that forms part of our billion-dollar tourism attraction and our food.
“In 2017 we imported over 100 million plastic bags. That’s enough plastic to wrap around Barbados 368 times,” said Nikola Simpson, founder of Sustainable Caribbean.
“Last year we imported close to 200, 000 pounds of straws.”
The organisation partnered with another non-governmental organisation, Oceanic Global Foundation, to launch at Copacabana the Barbados Edition of The Oceanic Standard, which was promoted as “a guide to provide sustainability solutions for the hospitality industry”.
Simpson moderated a panel discussion at the Saturday evening launch.
She said pollution of the seas is “not just a global problem. It’s something that is happening right here . . . Barbados is a large ocean state”.
“Everything that we do is linked to the ocean. We’re a culture and a society that is deeply rooted in the ocean.”
The launch of this non-government conservation movement has revealed that not only would manufacture of alternatives to single-use plastics create new jobs on island, but that a local compostable waste industry could also emerge.
Another revelation was that prices of imported alternatives to single-use plastic culinary utensils have begun dropping.
Connie Smith, a trustee of Waste 0 [zero] Resources Trust said alternatives to many plastic products can be obtained through Internet searches.
“Initially they may cost more because not enough of us are embracing the alternatives but if we all got on the alternative train, we’d find that the same demand and supply economic conundrum will manifest itself and the prices will go down,” she contended.
Adding to Smith’s assumption that increased use will lower the price of alternatives, Copacabana owner, Raj Chatrani, said his hospitality spot began using PLA [corn starch derived Polylactic acid] materials about two years ago, “the cost then and the cost now it’s definitely gone down, and I think it will go down further”.
A challenge of environmentally friendly waste disposal, however, remains.
“I could sort garbage, waste and compostable stuff but if it’s not going to the dump what good then am I doing?” Chatrani mused, and observed, “we need commercial composting on the island. It’s not an easy solution. There is a lot of expense to it”.
In that need the entrepreneur saw a business opportunity.
“I’m looking to see if I can get a few restaurants on board, and let’s fund a composter and get someone to pick up our waste. Let’s start small and five restaurants, or ten restaurants can do it, then that be expanded and built on,” he said, adding, “if ten restaurants find a way to turn their waste, put it back into the soil I think can have a big impact”.
Professional Industrial designer and research student, Mark Hill, pointed to the island’s abundance of biological-based resources such as coconut husk, sugarcane, and cassava plus sargassum seaweed.
“Most PLAs are made of corn that we can begin manufacturing out of cassava, sweet potato.”
He argued that the April 1 first-stage ban on single-use plastics can also create new jobs.
“Just importing alternatives without investment in industrial solutions is falling short of what the single-plastic ban should do for Barbados,” Hill said.
He said that the initial added cost for importing alternatives should be put towards local manufacture to meet an employment need, “if I have to pay an extra berry to get some young boys off the street and manufacturing stuff, can we not be prepared to pay the extra 10 cents to create jobs, rather than pay the extra 10 cents to import containers of stuff?”