I recently Skyped with my younger sister Stephanie, who is studying Veterinary Medicine at St. George’s University on the island of Grenada in the West Indies. Grenada is said to be one of the most picturesque islands in the Caribbean just northeast of Trinidad and Tobago. The island is famous for their spices and is known as the "Spice Isle", being a major source of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and cocoa. Some might think that being on an island, it would be obvious to recycle and dispose of your waste properly, being surrounded by pristine marine ecosystems. Sadly, this isn’t the case for many developing islands around the world.
After Stephanie informed me that it has been difficult to find somewhere on the island where she can recycle her waste, she showed me her suitcase full of cardboard boxes, straws, and plastic bottles. Steph is collecting all of her recyclables and her friends’ recyclables and storing them in her dorm until her next visit home to Atlanta. She makes sure to tell all of her friends to save their recyclable items for her. Although only about 20% of what gets recycled actually ends up being recycled, at least she’s making her individual effort to protect her environment and raise awareness at the same time. Every time she asks one of her friends to save something for her she’s sending a message to all of us, whether it be a message of consuming less plastic or a message to other demanding their government for the option to recycle on their island.
Why hasn't the government of Grenada sought outside solutions such as Aruba's Wastaway recycling plant implemented in 2009? 95% of Aruba's trash is recycled and converted into a pathogen-free, environmentally safe Btu pellet product called Fluff, widely used for potting soil. There are also options for locals to start small businesses benefiting from reselling and reusing recycled material turned into new materials other larger companies normally invest in.
What is the explanation for a beautiful island that relies on tourism not to partake in accessible recycling options? It could be a lack of political will, or a lack of funds for infrastructure, or maybe a lack of interest. The gap in policies and regulations controlling the island’s solid waste creates discouragement and hopelessness in the people living on the island, like my sister. There needs to be a stronger voice pushing for the government to take action for regular collection services and for sustainable recycling efforts.
What can be done? There is no simple answer. Here are a few key points I learned in the Massive Online Marine Litter Course I’m currently taking through the Open University of the Netherlands:
1. Coordination and communication among all support agencies, stakeholders, and partners is needed.
2. If the country is looking for international aid everyone involved must share and contribute their resources to implement and to improve the solid waste management situation for a continuous long period of time instead of a quick fix.
3. Defining clear roles for all involved stakeholders is very important so that everyone knows exactly what they are responsible for.
4. Strategic planning of your project is necessary. In order to be able to use all of the resources available effectively national and local plans for solid waste management must be provided for any outside support.
5. This external support can also help find areas to cut costs, minimize waste, and look for economic incentive measures in order to create this solid waste management project into a sustainable self-financing program.
6. Most importantly, one of the most successful tools in creating a long-term solid waste management project is raising awareness. It is crucial for the public and the decision makers involved to have complete awareness of the project being implemented and the plan to carry it out but also on the importance of consuming less. This should be a long-term effort and may take time to get off the ground but once you see interest in awareness this will dramatically affect the success of your project.
These tips might help launch a sustainable solid waste management project in a small island-developing nation like Grenada but they must all be implemented together. Grenada is too beautiful to watch it be buried under trash which could easily be turned into beautiful new reusable items. With a little effort, positive energy, and continued collaboration, sustainable projects to handle waste properly on small islands can become a reality!