When you think of the Caribbean, what do you think of? Pristine white sand beaches? Cristal-clear blue water? Tropical plants and wildlife? Well, the truth is a little less pretty. There is a literal sea of plastic floating in the Caribbean sea that is five miles long.
The Caribbean Sea: Aka The Sea Of Plastic
There is a sea of plastic floating in the Caribbean that is made up of five miles of plastic bottles, cutlery, and styrofoam plates. This is because the Caribbean islands, such as St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, Guyana, Barbados, Bahamas, Grenada, Anguilla, and Aruba, produce more plastic per person than even China. While yes, due to the population many Asian countries contribute more pounds of plastic, this statistic is quite alarming. (1) Some more stats on this include:
- 10 of the top 30 polluters per person globally are carribean nations
- The plastic from these 10 islands combined weighs more than 20,000 space shuttles
- Trinidad and Tobago produces 1.5kg of plastic waste per person per day
- 322,745 tonnes of plastic from carribean nations goes uncollected each year, is tossed on land or in waterways
The Great Caribbean Garbage Patch
About 12 miles from the island of Roatan, a sea of plastic known as The Great Caribbean Garbage Patch exists. Underwater photographer Caroline Power came across it back in 2017. She was appalled by the five miles of discarded plastic debris that she found. (2)
“Photos don’t exactly do it justice,” she said. “It was one of the most devastating and disgusting things that you could imagine to see in the water.”
She described it as an area about five miles wide of essentially a thick sheet of garbage, plastic, and other forms of trash. On the surface, she could see plastic floating, but it was underneath the surface that was truly appalling. Thousands of plastic bags were trapped under the trash floating on top. Just when she and her team thought they’d seen the worst of it, they found even more garbage.
“It almost looked like floating islands.” she described.
Your Recycling Isn’t Getting Recycled
Power went on to explain how the majority of what people put in the bin, even the correct one, worldwide still ends up in landfills and waterways anyways. This is why it is crucially important that recycling is the last thing we try to do to protect the environment. We should be reducing and reusing first – recycling is kind of the hail-mary of the fight against pollution and climate change.
“Countries like the UK use somewhere around 13 billion plastic water bottles a year,” she explained. “Of those, only three billion are recycled. The rest of them end up in landfill and a lot of people believe ‘I put my trash in the trash can, it goes in the bin, it goes away’ but that’s unfortunately not true.”
Much of that trash ends up washing out into the ocean. About 90% of that is plastic waste.
What Is Being Done?
Various Caribbean governments have begun implementing laws, regulations, and education programs to reduce not just the amount of plastic discarded improperly, but the amount their citizens use in general. More than 18 Caribbean territories have banned the use of plastic and styrofoam products, while others have done so in local markets. Others are in discussion as to how to change and implement bans and new programs to help solve this problem. (3)
In 2017, UN Environment’s Caribbean Environment Programme partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Peace Corps, and UN Environment’s Regional Office for Latin America to launch the Trash Free Waters Initiative. The goals of this partnership are:
- Reduce and prevent land-based trash from entering watersheds, coastal waters, and the Carribean Sea
- Recycling, community awareness, and education
- Solid waste management
- Pollution prevention
- Waste separation
There are also many groups working hard to clean up the trash that is already floating in the ocean and choking out the marine life there.
The Bottom Line: We All Have A Role To Play
Whether you’re on vacation in the Caribbean, live there full-time, or live somewhere else in the world, your plastic waste counts. We all need to make a huge effort to eliminate single-use plastic from our lives entirely.