Worldwide, countries are trying to cope with excessive waste generation, but this is even more critical for small island developing nations like Trinidad & Tobago where growing populations, limited space, and fragile environments are just some of the several issues that impact us. With a population of 1.4M and a waste generation per capita of 1.5kg, wholesome strategies that divert valuable materials from the landfills are welcomed. While waste prevention, minimization and reuse are the most important daily steps each citizen should take, recycling is the next best thing when waste is unavoidable.
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials or objects. In Trinidad & Tobago, however, we use the term “recycling” to cover mainly (1) the collection of waste materials for recycling; and (2), the processing of these waste materials via sorting, baling, etc. in readiness for sale to local and overseas recyclers. These activities are important as they recognize the value of recyclables, provide employment, and divert waste from our burgeoning landfills.
Recycling meets several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and contributes to Government’s objective of placing the environment at the centre of social and economic development. It is a critical component of the circular economy: a system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system, minimising the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions.
The introduction of a Beverage Container Deposit/ Refund System (BCDRS) is highly anticipated as a mechanism to address the proliferation of these items in the municipal waste stream. The legislation provides that consumers pay a deposit fee on purchase of beverage products. This fee is refunded when the empty container is returned. The returned containers are then collected and processed for recycling. This type of system provides a financial incentive while helping to reduce illegal dumping on land and in rivers, waterways and ocean. The legislation can also be applied to items such as tyres, batteries, and consumer electronics.
Is recycling beneficial to the planet? Here is some clear evidence from the US Environmental Protection Agency:
Public Sector Recycling Programme (PSRP)
Workplace Waste Reduction and Recycling Programme (WRAP)
Municipal Curbside Recycling Programme (MCRP)
Items Recycled Locally
Beverage Container Recycling Facility
Glass Bottles have always been part of the waste recovery and recycling effort. The types of bottles normally salvaged include beer, stout, rum, wine and ketchup. A strong incentive to return soft drink bottles resulted in limited quantities reaching the landfill.
In 1989, an arrangement was made with the existing salvagers at Beetham Landfill to sell collected glass to SWMCOL, who in turn would supply Carib Glassworks factory. The salvagers later developed themselves into a cooperative called United Bottle Vendors Association. With SWMCOL as their facilitator, a nominal rental fee was collected for use of facilities at Beetham to process the glass into saleable cullet. Most of the glass was salvaged at the landfill tip and taken to cubicles at the facility for crushing. The cullet was then bagged, weighed, transported, and sold to the Carib Glassworks factory where it was melted and made into new glass bottles.
From 1989 to 1992, an annual average of approximately 4200 tonnes of glass bottles reached the three major landfill sites. Of this amount 3600 tonnes were obtained from the Beetham Landfill Site. A similar bottle salvaging arrangement was established at the Forres Park and Guanapo Landfills. Recycling efforts external to the landfill sites absorb about 55% of the glass available in the waste stream. Some of the items are recycled as whole bottles, which are resold to bottling industries and medium to small food and drink processors for packaging nuts, grain, juices and other items.
Textile Recycling - Some salvagers collected rags and cloth that would be washed, dried and then stored in bags until sufficiently accumulated for sale. Buyers used these textile scraps for mop-making or for use as oil rags in the energy sector.
Ferrous Scrap Metal Recycling - Ferrous items include iron and steel. Scrap collectors retrieved iron and steel waste from the landfill sites and other source such as dismantled buildings, or the remains of dismantled plant equipment. At the landfill sites, a monthly salvage-right fee is paid by contracted individuals, permitting exclusive retrieval. The metals were then delivered to Trinidad’s then Iron and Steel Plant (ISPATT). Unfortunately, the cost of processing and transporting the material sometimes exceeded the price paid by ISPATT.
Non-ferrous Scrap Metal Recycling - Non-ferrous items include copper wire, aluminium, and batteries that are salvaged from the landfill sites. Salvagers normally burned away the insulation from the copper wire, and the remaining metals were then sold to intermediate scrap-metal dealers. Aluminium was also retrieved from the landfill sites and sold to scrap-metal dealers. Batteries were recovered to extract their lead content and the battery casings were then sold to automotive dealers.
Paper Recycling - Trinidad and Tobago imports all its paper, approximately 46,000 tonnes annually back in the 1990s. Of this amount only about 2% was recycled. SWMCOL formally commissioned its paper recovery operation in May 1991 and production increased by 540% by 1996. The process involved collection of waste paper and cardboard from large commercial generators, separating the material into various grades, and baling for export – an average of 270 tonnes exported per month. White and coloured ledger paper fetched the highest price on the recycling market. Cardboard accounted for approximately 25 to 30 percent of the facility’s recycling process. With no local paper production plant available at that time, overseas markets were targeted, and the demand and cost of transportation determined the grades and volume shipped.
Plastics Recycling - Plastics recovery commenced in Trinidad in early 1994 with only PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) being collected and baled for shipment to recycling plants in the export market. Although relatively high quantities of plastic were recovered and exported, the actual profits derived from this venture were marginal. During January 1994 to May 1996, PET was collected and baled at a rate of 40 tonnes per month for recycling. Since then, world market prices for recyclable plastics have decreased due to the comparatively low cost of producing new plastic.
Waste-Oil Recycling - Waste oil was collected from some industrial clients, service stations, special waste-oil depots, and visiting seaport vessels. The oil was then transported to Petrotrin where it was recycled. Only the cost of collection and transportation was recovered from this activity.
Beverage containers and waste paper are sourced from SWMCOL’s public and private sector recycling programmes, pilot municipal curbside recycling programmes, and the EMA’s iCARE community bins. The post-consumer beverage containers are processed at SWMCOL’s Beverage Container Recycling Facility and sold to local and recycling organizations.
Used tyres are sourced from municipal corporations and tyre dealers. The tyres are shredded and some of the material used in some local applications. The bulk of the shredded material is stockpiled and available for sale to recyclers but processing into crumb rubber requires considerable financial investment.
“Get into Green” is more than a call to action. It is both a precept and a promise.
The promise is that of a greener tomorrow for the benefit of all when we “Get into Green”.