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News > Latin America

Caribbean Nations Step Up Fight Against Environmental Crisis

  • A photograph showing the extent of the litter crisis in Guyana taken in 2011.

    A photograph showing the extent of the litter crisis in Guyana taken in 2011. | Photo: WikiCommons

Published 15 March 2016

Guyana is the latest member of the 15-nation CARICOM to ban Styrofoam, which poses a serious risk to the region's diverse marine life.

Caribbean governments are taking firm steps to ban the importation of non-biodegradable products into their countries.

Guyana is the latest member of the 15-country Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping to announce a ban on closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam, known popularly as the trade-marked brand Styrofoam. The country’s Environmental Protection Agency is leading this cause, which will come into effect on April 1, 2016.

Styrofoam products are widely used in the food industry throughout the Caribbean, but the Government of Guyana has said improper disposal of the single use item remains a threat to human health and the environment. Experts say Styrofoam products take more than 500 years to break down and because it is lightweight and nd eventually reaches gutters, drains and the ocean.

Officials of Guyana’s Finance Ministry also announced that the country is considering tax incentives for importers who are interested in alternatives to Styrofoam.

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The Roosevelt Skerrit-led government in Dominica announced its ban on the products in December 2015.

“We can’t speak about being the nature island of the world when we are not making any contributions to keep our country clean and beautiful,” Skerrit said at the time.

Meanwhile, a ban on the importation of plastic bags, except those for garbage collection, came into effect in Antigua and Barbuda on Jan. 1, 2016. The country’s Health Minister Molwyn Joseph said phasing out their use is set for July 2016.

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“It is a progressive program that we are on. We want to clean up this environment; we want to encourage people to use biodegradable materials for storage and as containers for food and drinks,” he said, adding hope for similar programmes across the Caribbean.

“We have been commended for our efforts and you are likely to find that Antigua and Barbuda will be joined by other Caribbean countries going in this direction.”

Haiti has taken the lead in the Caribbean. In 2012, a decree by then-President Michel Martelly announced a ban on importing, manufacturing and marketing both plastic and foam products. This was done in an effort to tackle the "rivers of debris" across the country.

The challenges posed by Styrofoam and plastics in the Caribbean are not limited to the land. The products also pose serious danger to marine life, particularly turtles which marine scientists say often mistake them for food.

Governments have stressed these measures to aid the promotion of a better and more sustainable environment can only be successful if each person takes responsibility for their actions and surroundings and adopts an anti-litter stance.

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