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‘Recycling a necessity, not an option’

Monday, March 23, 2015

Meet the Morgans. They are a Trinidadian family, inspired by plastic recycling NGO Plastikeep to do their part to save the world from plastic pollution. Crista and John are the Momma Bear and the Papa Bear. Their children are Tristan, 10, Tessa, 6, and the baby of the family, Thomas, 3. They lead a regular hectic Port-of-Spain lifestyle. It is all about children and work. Walk on to their veranda. The first thing that catches your eye is the beautiful ornate cast-iron railing that surrounds it. 

If you don’t watch out you might trip on some children’s toys scattered on the floor. The elaborate ironwork aside, it is fairly humdrum for a young family. The next thing you see is less common: a clothesline full of plastic bags, plastic food containers and plastic food wrappers. The Morgans collect and recycle every bit of plastic that enters their household. Nothing escapes, not even the quarter-inch thin strip of plastic that seals a bag of frozen strawberries. 

They clean each bit of plastic with dishwashing liquid and then hang the plastic out to dry—right next to their linens and socks. They fill a garbage bag full of plastic every other day. Whenever they get a chance they drop it off by one of the plastic collection points operated by Plastikeep. Mostly they use the plastic collection bins at Boy Scouts in St Ann’s or by Massy Stores in Maraval, conveniently located on the way to and from school. 

Their recycling habit started a few years ago spawned by Plastikeep’s “Plastithon” (plastic+marathon) initiative. The Plastithon involved 37 schools and ran for three years from 2011-2014. The idea was to get children and their families involved in collecting and recycling plastic. There were prizes for each school, class and student that collected the most. The hope was that this would plant a seed for positive change among the 16,000 students who were included in the outreach.

The Morgan children go to one of the 37 Plastithon schools. Like most people they had no idea how much plastic they used. When the garbage bags started filling up they were shocked. They put the bags in an annex. It quickly became a jumbled stack of plastic. 

They weren’t the only ones experiencing this. Crista says. “It was the same with friends of mine. With just two of them at home they would fill up a garbage bag every three days.” The Plastithon brought about a paradigm change in the Morgans, who now try to reduce the amount of plastic they use. Plastic is everywhere. We sit on plastic chairs, write with plastic pens, walk on plastic shoes, wear plastic clothes and drink from plastic bottles. 

If we buy food from a supermarket it is nearly always wrapped in plastic—and then we carry those plastic-wrapped groceries home in a single-use plastic bag. We even talk on plastic phones. None of that plastic ever disappears. Plastic does not biodegrade. Each and every bit of plastic that was ever created is still around. It just breaks down into smaller pieces. These bits and pieces of plastic clog drains and kill wildlife. Turtles choke on plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish and birds mistake plastic for food. 

It clogs up their stomachs and guts. They slowly starve to death. Those are the effects of plastic that we can see. There is also the invisible plastic toxic effect. Plastic is made up of chemicals. When plastic floats in the ocean it acts like a magnet for other contaminants. Plastic in the ocean has a thousand times the toxins compared to the surrounding seawater. When an animal ingests it those toxins enter its bloodstream and tissue. 

As predators eat small animals the toxins bioaccumulate. That means that animals at the top of the food chain are most vulnerable. That is bad news for us humans. Crista Morgan: “Recycling is a necessity, not an option. If we don’t recycle we will ruin this earth. We have to find a way to make this happen in Trinidad. Other countries have done it. Even struggling Barbados has an active and vibrant recycling programme.” The government-run Green Fund funds Plastikeep. Plastikeep has been informed that it must cease operations by March 31, 2015. 

There is no alternative national programme in place for the collection of plastic at community level. The Morgans will have no neighbourhood bins to deposit their plastics. Instead they now have the option to drop off plastic at the Sea Lots depot of SWMMCOL—not exactly a family-friendly option. It will be a reversal of a lot of good that was achieved. The Morgans want a national recycling programme. Plastikeep planted a seed in their family. 

They find it unimaginable that the powers that be would allow the death of this seedling without dealing with what is simply modern garbage collection and waste separation. John Morgan: “It is unbelievable that T&T has no proper recycling. It is not like it has never been done before. Just pull a page from another country with a good recycling programme. Crunch the figures, do the research and go with it! Time is not on our side.”


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