The fight for a trash-free Caribbean Sea

March 27, 2017 – More than 700 islands and coastal countries share the riches of the Caribbean Sea, and the region´s prosperity depends on these crystal waters and clean beaches. But this critical resource and the millions who depend on it face a major and fast-growing threat: marine litter.

Ocean pollution from solid waste is emerging as one the greatest environmental challenges of our age. Plastics production is growing exponentially, and at least 8 million tons of plastic leak into the global ocean each year. By one estimate, it will outweigh all the fish by 2050.

UN Environment this month launched its #CleanSeas campaign to bring together governments, businesses and individuals in a global effort to combat a menace with enormous consequences for marine ecosystems and for human well-being.

In major cities around the Caribbean, as little as 50 per cent of solid waste is collected, contributing to the pollution that is harming vital tourism, maritime and fishing industries. Diving tourism around coral reefs alone is worth over $2 billion a year to the region.

Several Caribbean countries have already responded with bold actions.

Antigua and Barbuda banned the import of single use plastic bags last July, while St. Vincent and the Grenadines banned styrofoam products in May 2016 and removed import tax on biodegradable packaging and food containers.

Guyana has also banned styrofoam and the import of used tyres, including on imported used vehicles. The government hopes these moves will stimulate new businesses and bolster its ongoing ‘Green Economy’ initiative.

UN Environment’s Caribbean Environment Programme, based in Kingston, Jamaica, is helping countries find practicalways to address the impacts of pollution on theircoastal and marine areas. This is within the framework of a regional agreement that promotes cooperation for pollution prevention, reduction and control:The Protocol on the Control of Land Based Sources of Marine Pollution.

Under the protocol, a recently adopted action plan provides guidance on how to protect coastal and marine ecosystems from solid waste and marine litter. Recommendations include improvingthe collection, transport and disposal of solid waste, restricting the importand use of single-use plastics, promoting recycling and re-use and identifying more environmentally friendly packaging materials. Such steps can help stimulate new industries and job opportunities in solid waste and plastics management.

The action plan is supported by ongoing public awareness and education efforts. These help to change attitudes, behaviour and practicesso that reductions in marine litter are sustained for the long term.

Another initiative promoting better waste management in the region is the Trash Free Waters partnership. Developed initially as a domestic programme for the United States, it was launched in the Caribbean in 2015.

The initiative is implemented by national stakeholders and coordinated through a partnership involving UN Environment and the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency and Peace Corps volunteer program. It aims to improve solid waste management at the local community level supported by education and awareness raising activities. The two countries in the initial phase are Jamaica and Panama.

For more information, please contact UN Environment-Caribbean Environment Programme at [email protected].