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Plastic...Is there a law for that, too?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My brother-in-law, Christopher, can tell you that an empty glass bottle at the side of the road (or in your hand) in Tunapuna on a Carnival Tuesday stays there for approximately 30 seconds—if that long. By contrast, a plastic bottle stays on the street until the garbage collectors arrive early the following morning.

Tell me. What law does it require to make the difference between scenarios one and two? Doesn’t a deposit and refund system apply here—the “deposit” being a part of the price of the beer? Is there a law for that?

Then, what regulation is required to produce the energy to walk to a bin and leave the container there or to have local government authorities strategically locate such facilities and later have them responsibly disposed of for reuse or recycling or used otherwise?

Now, I am not naïve about the demands of recycling when it comes to plastics and I am aware of the limitations regarding their re-use—two distinct processes that should not be mentioned interchangeably, the experts ought to be reminding us. Our children are learning this at school.

But, under the effects of post-colonial hangovers, attention too often turns to the coercive arm of the law to achieve behaviour change or compliance with norms that distinguish between modern and primitive societies.

It’s all around us—this state of not being responsible for either ourselves or our environment. So, pass a law and make the authorities responsible for enforcing it, so willing have we been to surrender our freedoms.

I have discussed pending beverage container legislation with all kinds of people for a long time now. It is a matter which, for some inexplicable reason, has remained untouched in any meaningful way for years. 

At its core, it is yet another attempt to regulate people and corporations into responsible behaviour not through a process of highly-motivated common and business sense, market-driven incentive and reward, but through regulatory coercion. In my view, real businesses not habitually reliant on state-sponsored incentives would have recognised the possibilities long time ago.

It cannot be that manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers appreciate the authoritarian tone of successive versions of beverage containers legislation. For, they closely and condescendingly match the kind of common sense instruction usually heard in a primary school classroom: Wash your hands before and after meals; Flush the toilet; Do not litter; Now, behave yourself, Kumar.

Go find yourself a copy of the Bill. Government wuk for people on a hifalutin Beverage Containers Advisory Board, manufacturers SHALL this that and the other, retailers SHALL do this. Not the language of a so-called capitalist society in perpetual search of profit-making opportunities.

Then, all manner of bacchanal between legislators and the TTMA. Technical papers by the EMA. Consultations. Big speeches and promises on the hustings and in parliament. Someday, somebody will fling a plastic water bottle across the parliamentary tea room because of this.

But, back to Christopher and Tunapuna Carnival Tuesday. The same guy who relieves you of your glass bottle a split second after the last gulp, leaves behind 10 plastic bottles. If former Port-of-Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing had had his way, there would have been 11 plastic bottles left behind … in the drain or on the street.

Does it really have to take the fear of a $500,000 criminal penalty against manufacturers for someone to come up with a 50 cent incentive to the bottle collector based on a system of pricing and costing which distributes the burden of plastic waste?

I am fed-up of hearing politicians suggest that the reason why plastic bottles continue to clog our watercourses and disfigure our open spaces is that people across the parliamentary floor have been negligent on the question of beverage container legislation (for which they all stand justifiably accused).

The Carnival street entrepreneurs are standing by for a proper business-oriented solution. Grocery carts, baby carriages and crocus bags await the tens of thousands of plastic containers thrown all over the place on a weekly basis.

At the end of it all, we can either come up with something sensible or get vexed enough to do like others and ban plastic containers altogether—a final solution we should perhaps explore because Kumar continues to refuse to wash his hands after coming off the cricket field.


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