Every September, on International Coastal Cleanup Day in Jamaica, plastic is the most collected material. In 2019, the top 10 items collected were all single-use plastic and polystyrene (foam) waste, anything from plastic bottles to food wrappers.
More than 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans globally, each year, adversely impacting ecosystems, biodiversity and potentially human health.
According to the Jamaica’s Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), marine litter within the country's coastal waters has significantly impacted the tourism and fisheries industries. To reverse this trend a national ban on single-use plastics was launched on January 1, 2019, with several phases.
The final phase, which applies to 24” by 24” single-use plastic bags and disposable drinking straws attached to drink boxes or pouches, began on January 1, 2021. The government has granted a six-month transition period to the private sector and has committed to increasing public education and awareness-raising activities.
A growing problem
Of the 800,000 tons of residential waste, Jamaica generates annually, 15 per cent is estimated to be plastics. While three-quarters of this is disposed of at legal disposal sites, the remainder often ends up in drains, rivers, gullies, beaches and, ultimately, the ocean. The plastic pollution results in flooding and damage to coastal and marine ecosystems and is creating an unhealthy environment for local populations.
Places like Rae Town, a coastal Kingston neighbourhood, suffer the most from the wave of plastic pollution that makes its way into Kingston Harbor. The gully that traverses the area brings even more plastic waste to the area.
UNEP’s Caribbean Sub-Regional Office and its International Environmental Technology Centre have been working since 2018 with the Government of Jamaica and the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) on a Plastic Waste Minimization Project. This project, which is funded by the Global Environment Facility and the Japanese Government with co-financing through the Jamaican Government, aims to further strengthen policy and enhance legal frameworks that will enable Jamaica to reduce and manage plastic waste from land-based sources in an environmentally sound manner.
Focusing on policy development and public education, the project is empowering Rae Town citizens to find innovative solutions to the plastic problem, from creative upcycling and income-generating opportunities to environmental warden initiatives.
Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Recycle
November 2019 saw the launch of a flagship Plastic Recycling Pilot Project. Under this initiative, Rae Town residents were encouraged to participate in clean-up activities following the 4 R’s of: Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.
Environmental wardens have been trained in the community to prevent improper waste management and the country has received the first government-owned plastic collection truck.
“This is a significant milestone,” said Ms. Kashta Graham, the Project’s Manager. “Prior to this, there was no truck for collecting only plastic.”
Rae Town residents have collected 6,974 pounds of plastic from their local environment and shoreline. These hauls of “waste” are increasingly becoming new means of livelihoods.
From plant pots to playground furniture, Rae Town residents are repurposing plastic in collaboration with 360 Recycle (a local social enterprise that manufactures and sells recycled plastic products). Residents are also encouraged to participate in competitions to find new ways to re-use plastic waste to benefit the community.
Edson Carr, Planning Manager at Jamaica’s National Solid Waste Management Authority says the Rae Town project aims to shift in how residents perceive plastic and manage plastic waste. “Success will entail residents engaging in the separation of plastics from their regular waste as well as community members adopting better practices”, he said.
Leading by example
Businesses are also getting involved through the Green Business Jamaica Environmental Stewardship Programme. Since the initiative started in May 2019, the seven companies and five public sector entities that are participating have made significant efforts to cut plastic pollution in their operations.
The project also recently launched an Eco-Rewards Plastic Recycling Pilot with Lee’s Food Fair, one of the largest supermarkets in the Kingston metropolitan area. Through the store’s customer loyalty scheme, customers earn eco-reward points for every 10 pounds of plastic they bring in to be recycled. A “no plastic” pledge board encourages people to publicly commit to reducing their consumption of plastic materials.
As Jamaica, along with the rest of the world, grapples with COVID-19, the Plastic Waste “The Rae Town project is proof that, when policy makers and the public work together, systemic and sustainable change is possible,” says Kashta Graham.