A conservationist has warned that plastic pollution globally could be more pervasive than previously thought.
Addressing a panel discussion on single-use plastics last night, the director of public education and awareness at the Barbados Sea Turtle Project Carla Daniel said recent environmental studies have shown that humans may be ingesting as much as five grammes of plastics which can be found in the air, in drinking water and the oceans.
Daniel said: “They’re saying that you are ingesting about five grams of plastic. Where’s this plastic coming from? It’s coming from your bottled water that you love so much. And it’s also coming from tap water.
“People are not sure what the health impact from all of this plastic ingestion is but they do know that basically every week you’re eating a credit-card sized amount of plastic.”
According to Daniel, land-based microplastic pollution may be as much as four to 23 times as high as marine plastic pollution.
“So you’re really concerned about all the plastic in the water and so on, but all of that soil you’re walking on, all of that soil you’re putting your crops in, all of the rivers that are flowing through…. All of those things have plastic as well.
“Research is suggesting that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since then… 6.3 billion metric tonnes is plastic waste. So even with the best intentions of recycling, we still have 79 per cent of this buried in landfills or in nature. And if we continue at this rate of production … without better recycling infrastructure, 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste in landfills by 2050. That’s probably the size of a few Barbadoses.”
She also described the impact of plastic litter on Barbadian wildlife, particularly sea turtles, whose hatchlings are sometimes trapped in plastic bags.
“One of the issues with putting garbage on the sand is that sometimes when turtles try to lay their eggs they will bury that garbage in with the eggs. Sometimes what happens is that people that are cleaning the beach or people who are on the beach think they are doing a good deed somehow by burying their dirty diapers, burying their Styrofoam or whatever containers, burying their plastic bags down in the sand.”
But she believes that Barbados can improve the state of its environment.
“This is the golden age of technology, we have the opportunity to be a shining example.
“We have the opportunity to clean up our act, we have the opportunity to clean our island.
“We have 166 square miles, we have approximately 280,000 people, if we all got on board we could probably clean up this place in no time.”
Dominique Tudor, the founder of Eco Rebel, a provider of environmentally friendly products, hailed the ban on single-use plastics, which took effect on April 1.
Tudor said: “The worldwide exposure for this plastic ban has allowed us to all come together and just sort it out.
“I’ve never seen more organisations actually working together for one single focus and that’s single-use plastics.
“So more people are encouraged to get out and to speak and to share their knowledge with other people because at the end of the day that’s how change happens.”
Plastic bags perpetuate a wasteful mindset among consumers, “and it just creates cities of litter and landfills that are continuing to go to overcapacity”, she said.
But she noted that there are disadvantages to the plastic ban, most notably job losses.
Tudor said: “You know a lot of persons were complaining about the cost of the alternatives, so you have those economic impacts that would affect the success of the plastic ban.
“Because those do affect cost and we know we’re all struggling to just make it, and we have to consider everybody even though we’re trying to do it for the environment, everybody still needs to be taken into account.”
But she described as another downside reusable shopping bags which are being promoted as a more environmentally friendly alternative.
“Unfortunately the downside to those show that they need to be used 100 times or more in order to be actually sustainable.
“So if you have a bag that’s tearing apart and you just throw it in the garbage, it’s thicker [and] it’s actually going to do more damage to the environment than the regular plastic bags.
“Other concerns were the accumulation of bacteria in them; they need to be sanitized and… water resources used to wash them.
“When you really do an analysis of the environmental impact, it’s not as simple as saying ‘oh yes there’s a better alternative. The only alternative is zero waste.”
While she was full of praise for those who are now becoming more environmentally conscious, Tudor said she is aware that not everyone will be on board.
“There’s a wider community across Barbados that is totally not interested in anything we have to say here. They just think that the problem is not theirs and it will go away.
“So that means that we who can do better should do better, and start brainstorming new ideas, new local industries to come up with alternatives that we can manage here in Barbados.”
The discussion was organised by the Caribbean Youth Environmental Network (CYEN) as part of their activities marking the observance of Environment Month.