The recycling movement locally has been gaining some momentum in recent years, at least in terms of awareness, even if action is still confined to a relatively small sector of the population.  There are more bins and recycling points throughout the country than ever before, even if many of them are filled with rubbish.  The point is, people are becoming more aware of the concept of recycling which is a starting point, and one would think that the next step, is to move people towards action.  Yes, this must be done, we must become a society that recycles, but the reality is, recycling is not enough, an absolute necessity, but still not enough.

According to The Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL), on average, each person generates approximately four (4) lbs. of waste per day.  If we consider a population of 1.3 million, that’s more than 5 million lbs of waste for disposal every day.  And where does this waste go? Well, I imagine some of it ends up in land fills, which are already at or exceeding capacity, a huge amount of it ends up in our rivers which we see whenever it rains and floods, a very small portion is recycled and much of it is just on the sides of the streets, or in empty lots, or wherever we can adopt the “not in my back yard” approach.

The fact is, the problem starts long before the point of ending up with a piece of trash and deciding which bin to put it into; the problem starts with consumption and the solution therefore must start with source reduction. The disclosure in December 2015 of the main users of foreign exchange in Trinidad and Tobago (right or wrong), was truly an indication of just how much we continue to be caught in the trap of consumerism; this ideology that promotes a seemingly insatiable ‘need’ to acquire more and more stuff, the ‘throw away’ culture where items are replaced or disposed of not because they have lost functionality or usefulness, but merely because there is a newer version available which society demand we must have. And we are all guilty of this to a greater or lesser extent.

So while we absolutely need to recycle more, we also need to consume less, and fortunately, we have a looming recession to help us out.  According to a 2012 World Bank Report, entitled What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, “the fastest way to reduce solid waste volumes is to have a recession” given that the amount of waste produced is directly related to income levels and rates of urbanisation.

This 2012 report projects that globally, levels of municipal solid waste (MSW), (i.e. solid or semi-solid waste generated in population centres) are projected to double by 2025 given rising income levels and urbanisation, so fortunately for Trinidad and Tobago our income levels are falling and we can perhaps prove these projections wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not making light of the recession and know that many people are already feeling the effects of retrenchment and reducing income levels. Perhaps we can use this period of falling oil prices and falling revenues to examine our consumption patterns, are we really spending on the things that we need or are we caught up in this trap of consumerism where society determines the goods and services that we consume, whether we really need them or not. Let’s not waste this recession.