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Commentary: A flood of solutions: Critical thinking where it counts
Published on September 19, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Phillip Edward Alexander

Guns don't kill people, people kill people, but people with guns kill more people than people who do not have any guns. In much the same way, plastic bottles don't cause floods, water causes floods, but plastic bottles assists water in the causing of floods like nothing else can.

Phillip Edward Alexander is a social and political activist, a feature writer and columnist, the founder of the Jericho Project and the chairman of the Citizen's Union of Trinidad and Tobago
Ever been to the scene of a flood in this country? What do you see besides mud and debris? That's right, mounds of plastic bottles.

So what are we to do? Well the smart money would be on limiting the amount of plastic bottles altogether as, besides causing floods, their production contributes in no small way to the size of our carbon footprint, are carcinogenic under certain conditions and are a waste of energy to produce.

But the manufacturers who rely on them also have their points: they are easy and cost effective to transport, they store and display virtually anywhere, are relatively cheap to produce, and are much sturdier compared to glass and other alternatives.

So what are we to do? Recycling is an option, but this would require an investment in plant and machinery that should ideally be borne by the manufacturers who profit from the industry. Could they be coerced into a joint venture with government to produce a plastics recycling facility? I am sure they could as it in itself could be profitable, but what would drive it? The bottles themselves, the source of the problem need to be brought to the recycling plant, but who is to do that?

Perhaps the solution to that problem could be a solution to another problem, the low wage worker and the homeless drifters that so abound in society can be a ready and easily motivated source of labour who would benefit greatly from the easy employment opportunities and would willingly work to turn trash into cash.

So how would it work? With a redeemable deposit built in (by law) to all plastic bottles, the industry literally creates itself. Now the same low wage workers that used to be seen all over the country collecting glass bottles when there was glass bottle recycling done here could now be motivated to gather plastic bottles for a small redemption (say ten cents per bottle as an example). I would suggest that the deposit be 25 cents, as the collection and sorting depots will have to also benefit from a share of that money, but the execution plan for the industry is a simple one.

Licensed or otherwise allocated collection depot zones would 'purchase' the empty bottles for ten cents and would sell them back sorted and packed to the recycling facility for the full deposit of 25 cents. If it works the rivers, drains and roadways would be picked clean of empty bottles in no time and the lowest rung of society might find itself better off for the effort, a win/win/win scenario if ever there was one.

And then there are the spin-off benefits. If this plan provided a solution to flooding and garbage through self liquidating means, how else could the model be imitated and redeployed? Aluminum cans? Paper by the pound? Clearly, the sky is the limit where trash is concerned, but far and away the greatest spin off benefit would be the reduced need for landfill space.

Policies such as these are first world thinking, are real redevelopment planning, and whether or not there is buy in at all levels, as long as there is political will this can happen. And if the manufacturers do not want to get on board willingly the same thing could be accomplished by a plastic container 'tax' levied on all plastic bottles at the import or manufacturing stage of the process.

There is no escaping that we need to confront and somehow resolve the synergy that exists between plastic bottles and flooding, plastic bottles and landfill space, plastic bottles and toxic disposal measures and plastic bottles and waste. This plan does all that and more, and if the government wanted to be seen as being proactive then they should adopt this idea, convene a conference with all manufacturers and other stakeholders with a view toward getting this program off the ground with as much collective effort as possible.

This is real leadership at the Jedi level, is positive and proactive national policy management, and is good for the economy, the environment and the nation as a whole.

Thank me later.
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