The awareness, celebration, and advocacy on Earth Day, which was celebrated on April 22, 2024, has highlighted the necessity of a shift away from the production and demand of plastics. Around the globe, grassroots organizations, companies, advocates, and much more are shedding more light on the realities of single use plastic in high quantities and the outcomes of plastic pollution that continually poses environmental and health risks for communities. Particularly in the Caribbean, countries are exposed to high levels of plastics entering oceanic spaces and harming marine animals, and impacting the livelihoods of workers in these spaces. As much as it’s necessary at a community level to minimize the impacts by proper disposal and reuse and shifting to more sustainable and environmentally friendly products, there’s much more to be done by corporations, authorities, and governing bodies to reduce plastic pollution and shift away from over-consumption and poor waste management strategies.

According to National Geographic, half of all plastics ever manufactured globally have been made in the last 20 years. With many containing additives for durability, there are estimates that these items can take around 400 years to break down. A significant amount of these include plastics that are mainly utilized on a single-use basis; meaning that these plastics are being manufactured beyond what’s necessary, to push a sense of hyper-consumption throughout society. This industry is profiting at a large scale. The global plastic market size was estimated at USD 624.8 billion in 2023 alone. Not only did it estimate a value of billions in 2023, but it is also estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.2% from 2024 to 2030. An industry including automotive, packaging, consumer goods, and much more estimated in billions of dollars are contributing to an environmental risk that will take decades to repair.

Plastic pollution disproportionately affects the Caribbean. The United Nations Environment Programme states that seventy to eighty percent of marine litter, consisting mainly of plastics, comes from the land. To be more specific, 320,000 tons of plastic waste are uncollected yearly, representing 12 percent of solid waste generated in the Caribbean. A challenge that persists is the prevalence of single-use plastics being consumed and thrown away, such as plastic bottles, bags, and food wrappers. The rapid rates of production have led to an unnecessary amount of plastics overwhelming communities and environmental spaces. What’s apparent is that the issue of plastic pollution is multi-faceted, from individual responsibility and waste collection management to the role of manufacturing agencies and the production of plastics. Having the brunt of responsibility be placed at an individual or even communal level disregards corporate responsibility and catalyzes a grander issue: sacrificing the safety and longevity of all forms of life and the environment for financial profit.

While the focus is on what individuals should do to eliminate plastic waste products, corporations are continually increasing the production and sales of their products. Vast importation of plastic-based products and local manufacturing has led to an increase in availability. Corporations have portrayed these products as not only accessible but affordable, developing a demand from consumers. However, even with such a demand due to constraints and limitations of alternatives, the rates of plastic-based products are beyond what’s necessary, with corporations pushing for more consumption to generate greater profits. Companies such as ExxonMobil, among many others, are producing millions of single-use plastic waste along with tons of carbon dioxide emissions. It’s apparent that not only does the process of manufacturing single-use plastics exacerbate environmental risks, but it also heightens the climate crisis by utilizing fossil fuels for the manufacturing process and contributing to greenhouse gases.


Rudolph Elder Park, Jamaica, covered with plastic waste

Rudolph Elder Park, Jamaica. Credit: Guardians of the Green JA


Amidst this harmful reality, communities have created opportunities to reduce the impacts, such as Guardians of the Green JA. This organization serves as an intersectionality and environmental organization based in Jamaica that is committed to promoting a sustainable future. Terica Drysdale, Founder and President has recognized the impact of plastic pollution in Jamaica and how her organization can strategize against the effects. She shared that some of the most impacted plastic pollution in Jamaica include the coastline, gullies, rivers, and natural ecosystems, becoming the final resting place for plastic waste. As these worsened environmental safety, they also exacerbated occurrences of flooding and contributed to health risks such as the outbreak of dengue fever, where plastic waste has further created breeding sites for mosquitoes. Drysdale acknowledged that this is a recurring issue in both urban and rural areas, with both requiring the same care and protection as it is still a part of the island irrespective of demography. The work done by Guardians of the Green JA includes coastal and community cleanups. Drysdale shared that the organization strives to have at least 4 beach cleanups per year and has also engaged in actions such as recycling events.


Before and after images of Guardians of the Green JA Cleanup at Rudolph Elder Park

Guardians of the Green JA Cleanup at Rudolph Elder Park


This plastic pollution crisis also affects other countries in the region, such as Trinidad and Tobago. As reported by Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, there is a waste generation of 2.30 kg per person daily. The dependence on imports has led to tonnes of plastic being received throughout the country. The UN reports that in Trinidad alone, around 129,000 metric tonnes of plastic are brought into the country every year. This has led to an ever-present probability of single-use plastics being discarded in improper ways. From impacts on the livelihoods of marine workers to the increasing rates of flooding throughout the country, plastic pollution has taken an unfathomable toll on the environment and communities. This has led to a surge of organizations and volunteers taking up the task to address the issue. One example is a group of volunteers deriving from the environmental firm of Coastal Dynamics at Invaders Bay. Through their collective efforts, they have stretched a boom across both banks of the Maraval River, stopping most of the detritus from entering the ocean.


Plastic bottles and debris come ashore in Chaguaramas. Credit: Angelo Marcelle, Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Plastic bottles and debris come ashore in Chaguaramas. Credit: Angelo Marcelle, Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


Clean-up and recycling efforts by organizations such as Guardians of the Green JA and Coastal Dynamics are a small portion of what’s required to repair environments from the effects of plastic pollution. Although their actions are impactful, the plastic pollution crisis will persist as long as corporations generate plastics at this capacity. Rather than solely relying on communities to clean up a mess that is continually over-spilling in environmental spaces, governing bodies must redirect financing and profits of these industries to sustainable alternatives of plastic and enact a global plastics treaty to significantly cut plastic production and use. As these solutions are envisioned, they must become a reality and an accessible one at that, providing communities with the access and affordability of acquiring alternative and safer options beyond what continues to be a detrimental risk to the Earth.