Waste Management as Climate Mitigation: The Caribbean Perspective

  • 2021/11/11     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Kenrick Baksh/Pexels

    By Eric Siegmund

    According to Sian Cuffy-Young, Trinidad and Tobago faces a waste issue. The high number of stakeholders – both public and private, weak government institutions, and a lack of enforcement and relevant data contribute to the poor situation. At Nexus Seminar No. 55, she discussed what needs to be done.

    The virtual Nexus Seminar No. 55 titled “Waste Management as a Climate Mitigation Process – The Caribbean Perspective” (18 October 2021) featured Sian Cuffy-Young, founder and CEO of Siel Environmental Services Limited, based in Trinidad and Tobago, and was the first instalment of the Winter Semester 2021/22.

    Cuffy-Young started her lecture by introducing the current state of waste management in the country that is made of islands with limited land available. The Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL), a government body in charge of the country’s waste management, indicates that due to the lack of resources, waste is not adequately covered and compressed. Even though 84 per cent of the waste is recyclable, most of it lands in landfills that receive waste from households.

    Among others, the waste in Trinidad and Tobago is composed of 27 per cent organic waste, 19 per cent plastics, and 19 per cent paper. Together with glass and other materials, these make up the 84 per cent of waste that is recyclable. A new study is underway, providing more recent data essential in moving forward.

    As private stakeholders, regional corporations possess a lack of internal performance management and do not get penalties in case of contract breaches. The ever-present shortage of staff and limited technical capacity make waste collection insufficient. In addition, the lack of updated and reliable data – the most recent data was collected in 2010 – hinders or at least slows down any improvement in waste management.

    Sian Cuffy-Young

    Inhabitants in the Caribbean region generate 48 per cent more waste than the world average. The collection rate reaches 85 per cent while the other 15 per cent of waste are either discarded into the environment or burned. Cuffy-Young noted that only a few Caribbean nations dispose their solid waste in sanitary landfills. As an example of a successful public-private partnership, the integrated solid waste management facility in Barbados sets standards that the region must follow, approaching the challenge in an integrated manner instead of thinking in silos.

    Focusing on the opportunities, the waste sector can move from being a minimal emissions source to a major emissions saver. That way, the sector can help avoid emissions in other sectors of the economy, such as in transportation.

    Conversations around the concept of circular economy have started in the Caribbean, a region that traditionally follows a more linear economy. Legislation toward an environmental policy approach of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is on its way to become law in Trinidad and Tobago. Among others, it provides a financial refund to consumers who return their plastic containers, a practice already in place for glass bottles.

    The country’s high dependency on cheap oil and gas – in part due to state subsidies – makes actions toward saving greenhouse emissions and reducing material use rather unlikely. Because of its expected high costs, CO2 emissions, and demand of land, waste as an energy resource is not on the political agenda. Moreover, the amount of waste is regarded as insufficient to maintain and sustain such a facility.

    Barriers toward better waste management can be overcome, especially when it comes to the lack of knowledge and understanding for concepts and good practices, such as the circular economy and its impact on communities.

    In an engaging Q&A session, Cuffy-Young addressed questions from the audience concerning the collection of waste, upcoming government regulations, and how research translates into policy recommendations. While the national government does not subsidise chemical fertilisers, the affordable price incentivises farmers to use them. However, new initiatives are ongoing to transition to natural fertilisers. In her final remarks, Cuffy-Young identified the process of convincing manufacturers of the benefits of implementing EPR in the country as the greatest challenge, which should be done with the help of good examples from the region.

    The Nexus Seminar is a monthly lecture series – held in collaboration with PRISMA – Centre for Sustainability Assessment and Policy on behalf of TU Dresden – that highlights all dimensions of research on the Nexus Approach. Find all past and upcoming Nexus Seminars here.