Saturday, August 8, 2009

Protect the Environment Trust Helping rid Jamaica of plastics."JAMAICAN OBSERVER'

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Environment Watch writer

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

IN 2004, more than 19.5 million non-cola beverages in plastic bottles - excluding bottled water - were consumed each month in Jamaica. Today, some 35 million plastic bottles are on supermarket shelves in the island.

This is according to D'Arcey Crooks, executive director of Protect the Environment Trust (PET) - an entity committed to helping Jamaicans deal with their plastic waste.

Empty plastic bottles are loaded into the machine used to shred them into 'flakes' at the Protect the Environment Trust' recycling plant in Kingston. A vacuum will later push them into a funnel that is then deposited in a bucket. Demonstrating the beginning of the recycling process are Michael Vickers (left), manager for the plant, Adrian Smith (centre), and Nico Abrahams who load the plastic bottles into the machine to be shredded.

Started in 2003, PET has as its objectives:

. educating students and the general public on the impact of plastic on the environment;

. recovering and reducing the amount of post-consumer plastics, thus decreasing the amount sent to landfills;

. reducing toxins entering the environment due to the burning of post-consumer plastics, saving the economy the cost of treating illnesses, such as asthma;

After the bottles are shredded into 'flakes' and collected in a bucket, they are then transfered to the super sacks for exportation. Michael Vickers (left), manager for the recycling plant and Richard Leigh, a worker, pour the shredded plastic bottles into a super sack labelled clear post-industrial with no labels, rings and caps, detailing the content that is stored therein. (Photos: Joseph Wellington)

. developing alliances with other recycling agents, locally and overseas, to further reduce the volume of waste contributed by glass, paper, etc;

. providing employment through the collection and processing of post-consumer plastics for export;

. investigating the possibility of adding value to post-consumer plastics as a raw material to be used in producing a variety of items such as roofing tiles, synthetic wood, etc.

Crooks explained how PET, with administrative offices at Haining Road in Kingston, came to be formed.

"I have a social responsibility to my country. (After I returned to Jamaica a few years ago), I was surprised at the amount of poorly discarded plastic bottles that was in the streets, the streams, the waterways, along the beaches and the highway. Something had to be done," he told Environment Watch.

Crooks said that Jamaica's biggest problem with plastics - which recent studies show take up to 700 years to break down naturally - continued to be people's lack of information about just how harmful they are, both to human health and to the environment.

"Whether it is being carelessly discarded in the streams, gullies, rivers or beaches (it is harmful). But even worse is the negative impact that is caused by burning of plastics because the plastic fumes that are emitted are very harmful to humans," the PET boss said, adding that it is the reason behind PET's commitment to public education.

"Studies have shown that these toxic fumes are connected to abnormal development in children if exposed to it. And, of course, it can lead to respiratory problems for all humans when the smoke is inhaled," he added.

It is against this background that PET has embarked on a programme which sees it collaborating with companies to recycle their plastic bottles. Their efforts, he said, have met with steady progress as they develop a sustainable non-biodegradable material recovery - with an emphasis on plastic bottles and containers - and recycling programme.

At present, the capacity does not exist to make products from the plastic collected in Jamaica, but it is something that PET has on its agenda.

"We do not make anything in Jamaica. That is one of our long-term objectives. It is a very expensive proposition, but it can be done," Crooks said.

Meanwhile, he said that there are many benefits to be had from recycling, not least among them a cleaner, safer and all round better environment for all.

"Eight 591-millilitre bottles can make one polo shirt. The material is processed to become yarn, like thread, very soft, refined and strong... as well as other products such as carpet and plastic lumber," Crooks noted.

But before it gets to this stage, plastic has to go through a process. PET facilitates this process.

After the receptacles provided for collection of plastic containers and bottles are filled, once the bottles and containers have the recyclable symbol (a small triangle with a number inside it), they are collected, sorted and shredded.

"We have to separate the different types of bottles by category - the insignia at the bottom [the ones with a five or seven]. They are then separated by types and colours, by hand; rinsed as necessary and then they are put into what is called a shredder. They are shredded into flakes," said the PET boss. "These flakes are packed into boxes or what we call 'super sacks' and then it is exported to people who will now take this material and make into pellets. These people who make the pellets will sell these pellets to people who make it into finished products."

The entity has one truck that collects plastic bottles five or six days per week, and makes monthly trips to Port Antonio. According to Crooks, from indications, they may have to start collecting seven days per week.

Costs are always important factors in the broader scope of development issues like the prevention of the continued degradation of the environment. PET is not exempt. Crooks said its director, the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ), businesses, as well as corporate sponsors who are "trickling in" fund PET.

"It costs a lot of money. That is why we are seeking sponsorship and support from stakeholders in our country," said Crooks.

PET is therefore offering green team membership, with the right to have sponsors' logos displayed on the PET truck. The entity has participated in programmes, such as the international beach clean-up, as well as collecting plastic bottles from communities, schools and entertainment events. They are now working on cleaning up Jamworld beach, which is to be transformed into a fishing village.

So far, Crooks said he is satisfied with their efforts.
"We are satisfied that we have been able to bring the facts to the attention of many individuals about the negative impacts of plastic on our environment," he said.

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