Waste in Trinidad

Living in Trinidad and Tobago, we all know that options for handling the plastic waste we produce are limited. A few dedicated companies have engaged in plastics recycling as a business, but the information on reaching these companies, and infrastructure to deliver the plastics to them, are very limited.

Plastikeep aims to begin changing this, by not only enabling residents in the catchment area to divert their plastics now, but also by educating residents in the rest of Trinidad and Tobago on ways we can make plastic waste less harmful.

Is Plastic Waste Harmful?
Yes. Plastics which are not collected and recycled contribute to environmental and health problems in many ways. Here are just a few:

When people throw away bottles and containers through littering- the waste clogs drains, rivers and streams. When rain falls, water backs up and floods; and when rain is not falling, stagnant water collects in these containers, creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes and disease. Plastic comprises up to 80% of the garbage floating in the seas off Trinidad and Tobago—that’s 15,000 pieces of litter on every square kilometre of water! Because plastic does not break down like paper or organic waste, the problem remains and gets worse with every new piece of litter.

Waste collecting at Hart's Cut, Chaguaramas

Wildlife can mistake plastics and other litter for food—with fatal effects. Turtles, for example, mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish, which are edible to turtles. They can suffocate and die from ingesting the plastic imposters. This is an extremely important resource to our tourism industry with the high number of endangered Leatherback turtles we see on our shores every year. 

A turtle mistaking a plastic bag for a jellyfish

The debris, chemicals and residues from plastics can kill many other forms of sea life, including sharks and sea birds. They are harmed not only by accidentally eating plastic but also by entanglement in bags, straps and packing materials found on or below the water surface.

A sea bird covered by a plastic bag

Plastic takes up unnecessary space in landfills. Even if we dispose of plastics in the garbage bin, we add to the problem of waste management. Our landfills are filled and overflowing. Trinidadians send ~500,000,000 (Five Hundred MILLION!) plastic bottles a year to our landfills. If we consciously worked to reduce our consumption of plastics by buying items with less packaging, purchasing in bulk and refusing single-use disposable consumer plastics such as plastic water bottles; then we make an effort to reuse as many plastic materials as we can including bottles and containers and recycle the plastics that cannot be reduced or reused, we could reduce the solid waste burden in the country by as much as 20%.

Here is a report based on Solid Waste in Trinidad for more information.

How long does it take for waste materials to decompose?
Many people throw waste into the environment believing it will naturally decompose. But how long does decomposition take? It can vary with many factors--humidity, the material type, temperature and exposure. In short, man-made waste materials stay for a long time in the soil or water when they are improperly disposed of; some cause harm to animals and humans, and many l eave toxic residues.

There is no fixed measurement of how long it takes waste to break down, but we have collected estimates from varied sources below.

Decompostion Rate Chart Guesstimates and Comparison
Material New York Times Penn State University The Ocean Conservancy, 2004
Glass bottle - 500yrs -
Plastic beverage bottle - 450yrs -
Aluminium can - 80yrs -
Styrofoam never never never
Tin can 100yrs 100yrs -
Plastic container - 50-80yrs 20-30yrs
Plastic bag 10-20yrs 10-20yrs 10-20yrs
Cigarette butt/filter 10-12yrs - 1-5yrs
Waxed milk carton 5yrs 5yrs 3mnths

What Can I Do with Plastic Waste?
There are several ways you can help reduce the burden of plastic waste on our country:

First, reduce the amount you consume. If you can choose to prepare foods and drinks in reusable containers rather than buy disposable ones, do! You will benefit from a healthier diet as well as reduce the amount of garbage for disposal.

When you do buy plastic bottles or containers, try to keep and reuse them before disposal. While it is not safe to reuse disposable plastics with food for a very long time, do consider washing and reusing bottles once or twice to keep drinking water or juices rather than buying a new bottle; reuse larger containers around the home for storage. As much as possible, take plastic grocery bags back to the grocery when you shop, so that you can avoid bringing home more plastics with every grocery trip.

If you live in the Plastikeep catchment area, crush your clean plastics and keep them in a separate bag from your garbage. When the bag is full, bring it to a dropoff point. Your plastics WILL be recycled and you can be confident you have not added to the plastic waste problem in Trinidad.

If you live outside the Plastikeep catchment area, please contact one of our partners to find a location where you can bring plastic and other recyclables.