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Beverage Bill back on front burner—Camille

Published: 
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Illegal dumping along the Woodland Connector Road in Woodland, yesterday. PICTURE KRISTIAN DE SILVA

It’s been almost two decades since the Beverage Containers Bill was first conceptualised but has never been passed as law.

However, with growing environmental consciousness among citizens, Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis says the proposed legislation is now engaging the attention of the Government.

Responding to questions about the status of the Beverage Containers Bill during World Environment Day, Robinson-Regis said, “The legislative framework to make this a reality is currently engaging the active attention of the Ministry of Attorney General and Legal Affairs and the Ministry of Public Utilities.”

Explaining the need for proper disposal of beverage containers, Robinson-Regis said the impact of non-biodegradable plastic containers was devastating to the environment.

“One obvious example of the negative impact of irresponsible beverage container disposal is flooding, resulting from the clogging of our waterways,” Robinson-Regis said.

“Mechanisms have to be put in place to encourage the reuse and/or recycling of container waste and to discourage the wasteful, unsanitary and environmentally degrading practice of disposing of empty beverage containers into the environment.”

She said tackling plastic pollution by regulating the use of beverage containers was important.

“One such mechanism for managing beverage containers waste is to place an economic value on the waste to encourage environmentally friendly practices. Such an instrument is deposit-refund systems which is what was contemplated under the Beverage Containers legislation,” she said.

In 2015, Robinson-Regis said the then People’s Partnership had proposed the establishment of a Waste Recycling Authority to implement the deposit-refund system on beverage containers.

“Upon assumption of office, the current administration examined this proposal and determined that the Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL) will undertake the function envisioned by the proposed Waste Recycling Management Authority,” Robinson-Regis said.

Saying waste is a valuable resource, Robinson-Regis said, “It will also stimulate the development of lucrative downstream waste recycling industries nationally, encouraging entrepreneurs, creating jobs and protecting human health and the environment.”

Asked whether she was satisfied with what is taking place at the level of Government as well as NGOs and the private sector the reduce plastic waste, Robinson-Regis said, “Through the Green Fund funded, Recyclable Solid Waste Collection Project (RSWCP), known as ICARE, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has jump-started recycling. The project has been engaged in a number of activities including the successful creation of a network of some 70 public recyclable collection sites where members of the public can deposit their clean recyclables and three pilot depots for the collection, sorting and data capture of recyclable materials deposited across Trinidad. This means that the diversion of plastic materials fit for recycling from the landfills is continuing through the EMA’s programme.”

She noted that the ICare project on its own is not the only element of the Government’s strategy for national waste recovery and recycling.

“It is one element of a wider network including both public and private sector players, each having equally important responsibilities in the broader push to achieve a recycling culture throughout T&T.”

She also noted that SWMCOL which operates depots and material recovery facilities is the entity responsible for recycling at the end of the ICare Project which is set for 2020.

She noted that individual households were responsible for waste segregation and deposit at public collection sites, adding that schools were important for the introduction and promotion of recycling as part of the school curriculum.

Asked what more can citizens do to reduce plastic waste, Robinson-Regis said, “Plastic is found in virtually everything these days. However, there are simple steps anyone can take that will dramatically decrease the amount of plastic waste generated. These include reducing the use of single use plastics: straws, plastic cutlery, reducing the use of plastic bags (carry a reusable bag to the supermarket); use produce from boxes instead of bottles, reuse glass containers, use reusable bottles and cups and choose environmentally friendly food and beverage packaging.

As to why it was taking so long for citizens to adopt proper waste disposal practices, Robinson-Regis said, “Citizens are showing a greater level of environmental consciousness than was seen in the past, and there is still a lot more that can be done.”

MORE ON THE BILL

The idea of regulating the use of plastic containers was conceptualized under the Basdeo Panday administration but it was under the Patrick Manning administration that the then Environment minister Penelope Beckles laid a Bill in Parliament. When the People’s Partnership took office, then minister Ganga Singh said 342 million beverage cases were produced annually in TT. The government made changes to the Bill and laid it in Parliament but it was never passed.

Former minister Ramona Ramdial said the Bill was debated in the Upper House but the Opposition had issues about who will benefit.

The bill lapsed and never came back. Ramdial said this was because private sector did not support the Bill.

“Large manufacturers of soft drinks and plastic containers felt it was not in their best interest to have this recycling initiative and the Bill was shelved,” Ramdial said. Based on the Bill’s provisions, people could get refunds when they bring in plastic bottles for recycling.

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