Plastic Free Cayman (PFC) is incredibly disappointed to notify the public that a second steering committee meeting on single-use plastics scheduled for 11th December 2019 was cancelled earlier the same day and until further notice by a Ministry of Health representative “due to insufficient numbers to make up quorum”.
A list of members shows 29 representatives form the committee and 13 people had committed to attend, including three volunteers from PFC. The first of the two meetings was also cancelled and later rescheduled.
PFC has not received any minutes from the first meeting, nor was an agenda circulated for the second. As yet, no clear mission statement, goals, responsibilities or action points have been set out for the committee. Neither has any documentation been provided which indicates how the chosen stakeholders were selected, how decisions are made or what number of members are required to make up a quorum.
Nine months after the Cayman Youth Parliament passionately debated and passed a single-use plastic ban in the Legislative Assembly the acting government still fails to take on board the gravity of the well-known social, economic, environmental and health problems single-use plastics are causing worldwide, across the Caribbean and in our local three-island community.
Government’s passive stance on this serious matter is extremely alarming given experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Says-Some-Common-Food-Additives-May-Pose-Health-Risks-to-Children.aspx) have issued warnings that toxic chemicals used for food packaging can interfere with a child’s hormones, growth and development. Life-long health problems such as changing the time of puberty, affecting male genitalia development, decreasing fertility, affecting nervous and immune systems, increasing childhood obesity and contributing to cardiovascular disease are only some of the serious health effects of chemical exposure from food packaging highlighted by the AAP.
Not only should we be concerned about the health impacts of direct ingestion of food tainted with toxic chemicals, we cannot ignore the government’s chronic failure to act on implementing an effective waste-management strategy. The lack of end-of-life stage planning for products and packaging, most of which are imported into Cayman, towers above our little island as “Trash Everest” assaulting our noses and leaching unquantified and unreported amounts of chemicals into the air, our ground water and natural environment. The neighboring school has to close because of ‘dump fire days’.
Plastic litter blocks drainage and collects standing water making it a known breeding ground for mosquitoes, increasing the risk of dengue fever.
Micronizing plastics (plastics breaking into smaller and smaller pieces) enter the food chain by direct ingestion such as shellfish or by accumulating in animal tissue transferring to humans in a similar way to more commonly understood risks such as heavy metals poisoning or ciguatera poisoning.
Visual and odor pollution are common complaints PFC receives from tourists expecting to relax on Cayman’s white coral sand beaches instead find themselves walking across beaches littered with bright white Styrofoam food packaging while single-use plastic drinks bottles crunch under their feet.
On 7th December, 25 volunteers attended PFC’s Monthly Beach Clean-up removing 500lbs of trash from Collier’s Beach in East End in under 2 hours, with most of it in the form of plastic bottles and Styrofoam. On-island visitors passing the group clean-up effort Saturday morning were quick to thank the volunteers but did not hesitate to share their horror at the unsightly litter covering Cayman’s beaches.
According to United Nations Caribbean Environment Programme 21 countries in the Wider Caribbean Region with bans already in place are:
• Antigua and Barbuda
• France (Guadeloupe)
• Puerto Rico
• Saint Lucia
• Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
• Turks and Caicos
• United States
• Virgin Islands
Some countries like Jamaica which have already banned single-use plastic ‘scandal’ bags and are phasing in strengthened regulations. As of January 1, 2020, Jamaica’s ban will extend to locally manufactured and distributed polystyrene foam food and beverage containers.
Cayman government is clearly falling behind the region in policy implementation on singleuse plastics down to lack of government will.
A multitude of international organisations provide readily available online resource tools to assist policymakers. Global agencies, such as the United Nations (UN) have made publicly available reports, recommendations, guidelines and resources to assist local governments tackle this planet-wide plastic-crisis. Caribbean region action plans such as the Land-Based Sources of Marine Pollution (LBS) Protocol (signed in 1999 and adopted in 2010) and the Caribbean Regional Action Plan for Marine Litter (RAPMaLI) (developed in 2008 and updated in 2010) are platforms facilitating communication and action in the Caribbean for the benefit of all countries. Earlier in 2019 the World Bank Group published a 104 page report titled “Marine Pollution in the Caribbean: not a minute to Waste” (http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/482391554225185720/pdf/Marine-Pollution-in-the-Caribbean-Not-a-Minute-to-Waste.pdf)
In Europe the Strategy for Plastics (https://ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/good-environmental-status/descriptor-10/index_en.htm) requires member states to act by 2020 on regulating the 10 most common single-use plastics found on beach cleans to reduce ocean plastic pollution.
The forward-thinking UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be embedded in all government agencies and encouraged for local businesses to guide our islands into a future of prosperity for all. Particularly relevant is SDG 14, Life Below Water which tackles marine pollution monitoring and action and provides a framework for governments, business and citizens to collaborate effectively to work towards the goals.
We applaud businesses, schools and individuals who have joined us in action by taking the Plastic Free Cayman 345 Pledge in committing to take steps to reduce their own single-use plastic consumption and be more mindful about their choices.
While we continue to advocate for government regulation, we encourage everyone to visit www.plasticfreecayman.com, take the 345 pledge and start your journey towards eliminating unnecessary single-use plastics.
We are extremely supportive of the youth of Cayman speaking up for their future, yet we continue to wait for any tangible action from the government which will protect them.
“There are a multitude of reasons for why we, Protect Our Future and the youth of Cayman, believe Cayman must ban single use plastics. First off there is the obvious reason that they are detrimental to the environmental health and prosperity of the Cayman Islands. Single use plastics are thrown into the landfill or littered and end up being ingested by marine and land-based species. These species inevitably die. This constant cycle is leading to a decrease in multiple crucial species populations. In order to protect its pristine environment Cayman must ban these harmful plastics. Another reason is the perception people have of Cayman. With the world moving towards being more environmentally friendly and sustainability being at the forefront of almost all decisions made, the fact Cayman has not begun to do this yet looks poorly upon us. The world will begin to see our island as underdeveloped and not environmentally friendly. Is this what we want? Other Caribbean Islands have already completed this process. Banning single use plastics will protect our environment, look better for our island, and could even become a source of income. If fines are implemented onto people that bring single use plastics onto our island, this money could then be invested back into our communities. The banning of single use plastics will only benefit us.” - Ben Somerville, Protect Our Future
“With research and technology advancing at unprecedented rates, why are we failing to move on from single use plastics? As a member of the youth of Cayman, I strongly believe that it is imperative that Cayman bans single use plastics. Not only to benefit our environment but those of our neighbouring Caribbean islands also. Of whom 7 have already placed plastic bans which will come to act in 2020.” - Matt Gilmour, Protect Our Future
“I understand that single use plastic is cheap, durable, and easily produced, however it doesn't support a circular economy, takes thousands of years to degrade, and harms ecosystems and human health (specifically our endocrine systems). Being surrounded by water and already struggling with waste management systems, I think moving towards a ban on single use plastics would be beneficial to the Cayman Islands.” - Isabela Walter, Protect Our Future