Plastic Pollution Sequestration in the Eastern Caribbean
A Pilot Study to Reduce the Impact of Tourism in the OECS
We at EcoServ intend to put a bounty on unrecyclable plastic waste, which will then be heat-compressed into blocks and subsequently stored in a network of mini resource depots distributed around the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. A modest premium of 2 dollars (USD) per kilogram for single-use films and food packaging would incentivize citizens to remediate their local environments and encourage waste separation and collection at the household level. In areas of poor waste management and high poverty such a program would have significant social and ecological knock-on effects.
The blocks can be safely sequestered permanently, preventing marine leakage, or can be repurposed as building material or as feedstock for chemical recycling or waste-to-energy technologies.
The program can be paid for through voluntary purchases of a universal coupon by visiting cruise and overnight tourists. Such coupons never expire, can change hands an unlimited number of times, and are redeemable at participating venders on cruise ships, in destination ports, or at any retailer globally willing to take it. Businesses and festivals with strong links to the Caribbean diaspora (eg. Caribana) may be especially interested.
In Latin America and the Caribbean overall, only 19.8% of municipalities have a solid waste management plan in place. This contributes to: a high rate of inadequate final disposal of municipal solid waste (45%); low cost recovery rates for waste collection and disposal (51.6%); low recycling rates (2.2%); as many as 4 million informal waste pickers; 17,000 tons per day of plastic dumped into the environment; and insufficient data collection on all aspects of waste management.
Caribbean SIDS (Small Island Developing States) share additional burdens partly due to their small size and geographic isolation including: limited waste management options; high poverty rates (OECS ave. 27.6%); high youth unemployment (31%); low financial inclusion; and poor economic integration within the region all combining to reduce the potential for economic growth.
Mismanaged plastic waste in particular can cause significant problems when incinerated (dioxins, furans), or dumped directly into waterways (marine pollution, flooding from drain blockages, micro-habitat for insect vectors). The limitations of island living, combined with the enormous ecological footprint of tourism has made the Caribbean Sea the second worst affected area for plastic pollution globally (after the Mediterranean).
Data sources: IDB 2019; UNEP 2018; ECLAC 2019.
We are developing a simple, cheap, robust appliance that heat compresses waste plastic films into interlocking 5 kg blocks. The appliance fits inside a 55 gallon drum, uses hand power for compaction, and induction heating to quickly and economically form strong, inert blocks that are stackable in 3 dimensions. The devices will be given (free) to interested local partners in the OECS (youth/civic centers, environmental groups, employment centers), who will actively recruit collectors. Plastic waste will initially be collected from the most polluted spots in the environment, but as those sources dry up we expect informal, ad hoc household collection systems to spontaneously develop. Given a reasonably high premium (we think USD 2 per kg will suffice) we expect to divert nearly all household waste plastic away from landfill disposal, dumping, and incineration. Payment will be made directly into (for many) newly acquired bank accounts to a daily maximum of 10 USD. Payment can be cash only, but more imaginative options should be explored that include some kind of insurance product (health, life, disaster). This increases financial inclusion in the segment of the population most in need of it.
The blocks can be permanently sequestered for hundreds of years with little to no environmental impact, and with minimal space requirements. For example, assuming 100% plastic collection from households and tourists on Dominica, 10 years’ worth of waste requires only 4 football fields of space (each 100 x 55 meters), dug to 2 meters depth. In fact, football fields or parks can be built over the top of the depots once full. The blocks remain readily available as chemical or energy feedstock, or building material should such a demand arise. As an added benefit, since municipal solid waste in the Caribbean consists of 12–14% plastic, the region’s highly stressed landfills will experience a reprieve.
Funding for the premium will be provided through sales of a new type of complementary currency (a token or universal coupon) on cruise ships and in local hotels and ports of entry. It has intrinsic value, representing both poverty reduction and environmental remediation, and exchange value at participating retailers.
Our project is focused on member nations of the OECS. Plastic pollution removal enhances the natural beauty of the physical environment (land and sea) for all citizens (pop 621,276), reduces flooding and disease vectors, and improves tourism potential (cleaner beaches, healthier coral). There is a high reliance on tourism (ave 75% of export earnings in OECS), which contributes 56.4 billion USD (14.9% of GDP) and provides 13.4% of employment in the Caribbean overall. We will provide a premium of 2 dollars per kilogram of collected waste plastic to targeted citizens. At full implementation (100% of household- and hotel- generated waste plastic collected; 5 kg per collector per day) our plan provides a daily wage of 10 USD to 19,382 collectors, directly lifting them well above the poverty line (range 5.22–8.68 USD per day), while sequestering 96,911 kg of plastic per day. This represents a 20.4% reduction in the poverty rate for those aged 18+. The depots of plastic also represent stored value for the municipalities who own them should they choose to repurpose the blocks.
Data sources: UNICEF 2019; OECS 2018; ECLAC 2018
Why this will work
The goals of all the main actors are aligned.
- Participation is voluntary.
- Cruise lines, hotels and retailers can leverage PR and marketing opportunities.
- Coupon purchasers get a psychological boost and something of material value.
- Collectors earn a decent wage, and inclusion in the financial system.
- Local residents experience a cleaner, healthier environment.
- Municipalities benefit from reduced strain on landfills, greater tourism potential, reduced poverty and unemployment, a more vibrant economy, and potential for more inter-island economic activity as the coupons circulate within the OECS.
A high enough premium can remove virtually all accessible waste plastic from the environment without the need for coercion, regulation, or any formal system. The ingenuity of local people will result in myriad novel ways to ensure no plastic ever becomes pollution. We believe a new entrepreneurial ecosystem will evolve as new ways to make and use the blocks are developed.
Our system is conceptually simple and very low-tech. The benefits and opportunities are immediately obvious to all. It can be set up and maintained quickly at very little cost. It functions at any scale, from a single neighborhood and a few dollars worth of coupons to billions of dollars helping millions of people world-wide.
Various data will be continuously collected to monitor positive impact and identify negative externalities.
- Coupon sales (location, season, per capita data).
- Money transferred to collectors’ bank accounts.
- Mass of plastic sequestered.
- Household and visitor surveys on environmental and domestic changes.
- Coupon velocity and range of use.
- Changing crime, domestic violence, social nuisance patterns.
Latest data for OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) excluding Monserrat:
- Estimated total plastic waste production: 35,373 tonnes per year. (This assumes tourists generate 3 times the local rate. MSW generation range for the 6 countries: 0.79–1.80 kg/person/day; plastic content 12%.).
- Total visitors (cruise + overnighters): 4.2 million.
- Average expenditure per visitor: USD 2,812.
- Total cost to collect 100% of plastic waste (@USD 2 / kg): USD 70.7 million. (Assumes 0% recycling)
- Total cost per visitor: USD 16.86
Thus 100% collection of plastic waste for the entire OECS can be achieved if we can convince each visitor to buy coupons to the level of $16.86 USD, equivalent to 0.6% of their vacation spend.
TABLE 1: Poverty Reduction
TABLE 2: Plastic Waste Generation