Styrofoam Ban: Trinidad and Tobago

Styrofoam. It’s cheap. And convenient. But it’s bad for the environment. And it’s annoying. Trinidad and Tobago wants to ban Styrofoam. By the year 2020. Impossible! For one styrofoam enjoys widespread use. It has. For more than 50 years. Particularly in the food industry.

And consumers, like you and me, are probably going to hate the alternatives. In the new beverage containers, the ice melts faster. Your coffee cools quicker. Plus The alternatives are more expensive. The price of corn soup, snow cone and chinese food instantly goes up; There’s no way i’m going to pay more than 25 dollars for a small noodles, chicken and chow mein.

And if they ban single-use plastics how am i going to drink my sweet-drink? In A calabash? What happens when I go to the grocery? Would I have to pay for plastic bags or scavenge for boxes to put my member’s select products which, ironically, are packaged in plastic and Styrofoam?

In theory a ban sounds great because of environmental dangers, but is it practical?

I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be an eco-warrior. I’m not. When I’m leaving a table, I pick up my garbage and put it in a bin; I do the same thing when I go to the river and beach; and i Pat myself on my back and say, “Well done, Big Head, well done.”

But investigating the impact of styrofoam and single-use plastic products on the environment i learned a couple things that shocked and terrified me more than one of Trevor Sayers videos.

In 2016, 12,258 tonnes of styrofoam food and beverage containers were used in Trinidad and Tobago. That’s enough Styrofoam to full over 1,225 garbage trucks.

Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, a toxic petroleum-based plastic. It’s bad for the environment. So are the raw materials. The manufacturing process is also bad for the environment. Under extreme temperature Styrofoam break down and leeches into food. Don’t ever microwave Styrofoam. Styrofoam is durable. “It doh rotten.” A cup can last anywhere from 500 years to forever. In a recent study, Styrofoam made up five per cent of solid waste found at landfills in the Caribbean. It’s bad for oceans, rivers, wildlife, humans and climate change. Imagine dumps and rivers littered with styrofoam products. Overhead there’s the Caribbean sun. Fumes. That mess with your lungs and the ozone.

Let’s talk business. And politics. In 2018, the government first announced a ban that was supposed to take effect in 2019. That date got pushed back. Again and again. So, in essence, Styrofoam is like that toxic boyfriend or girlfriend that you can’t just get rid of.

When it comes to banning Styrofoam. Trinidad is lagging behind countries like Guyana, St Vincent and Hotel Rwanda. We’re lagging behind Guyana and Tobago, which is a little bit embarrassing; considering that Trinidad is part of Tobago.

The proposed ban isn’t an outright ban. The ban means local manufacturers must include additives to make their products biodegradable. Businessmen are saying that T & T isn’t ready for the ban. One representative said, “Fish don’t eat Styrofoam, they eat the plastic.” Which is a silly argument. That’s like saying. Fast food doesn’t kill people. High cholesterol kills people.

Just so we’re on the same page. When Styrofoam breaks down into little pieces, the fish thinks its food. The fish eats it. The fish cannot digest it. The fish dies. A clamshell box.
It costs about 48 cents to produce. An alternative container costs about $1.48. Apart from the price, there are arguments against alternatives. There’re claims that the bagasse alternatives, like Styrofoam, con­tain chem­i­cals linked to can­cer.

Alternatives often creates more waste and generates more air and water pollution. Local companies that have tried to go green have actually returned to single-use plastic because alternatives like bagasse food containers result in soggy foods. Bagasse. That word just sounds wrong.

Some say the costs outweigh the benefits; and until a better, less-costly alternative to plastic foam is created, recycling programs are a better option. Let’s not forget that a person could throw an alternative product out of a car window as easily as a Styrofoam container, a bottle or a cigarette pack.

So, what happens if, come 2020, there aren’t any alternatives? What if manufacturers aren’t ready? What if they’re never ready? Do we continue to use Styrofoam and single-use plastics products? Trinis could stop buying items packaged in Styrofoam. That would work. For at least two weeks. Or two days. People could walk around with with your own cup and bowl. Can you imagine walking into a restaurant and saying,

“Le’me get a small noodles, chicken and chow mein.”
“That is a big bowl.”
“Mr Chin, you’ blind or what? This is a small”.
No. That is big… like your mother box.”

For the ban to work everyone has to work together: The state; manufacturers; businesses; law enforcement; and consumers like you and me.

Manufacturers need support from the state. Businesses need incentives; and they need to know where they can source alternatives at competitive prices. It isn’t as easy as announcing a ban and hoping for the best.

Listen, There’s no doubt that A styrofoam ban is going to present a number of inconveniences. But if that’s the cost of a better Trinidad and Tobago, for you, for me, for our children, then I’m willing for it. And once we’ve figured out how to get rid of Styrfoam we could work on getting rid of illegal guns.The average person may not care if they ban Styrofoam. It’s like a smoker. A smoker may not truly care about the dangers of his habit until he has lung disease. Like some arguments and some people, Styrofoam is 95 percent hot air and 5 percent substance.