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Growth & Jobs | Young bright minds needed to make a business out of cleaning up Jamaica

Published:Tuesday | September 12, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee
In this file photo, the Lions Club of St Elizabeth South, the Treasure Beach Women’s Group, and the Bethel Gospel Chapel cleaned up styrofoam and plastics from the Fort Charles Beach in St Elizabeth.

Mired in all the muck and grime littering the countryside is an opportunity for young, bright minds to come up with solutions to map and orchestrate the clean-up of Jamaica's growing garbage pollution, in an environmentally friendly, sustainable and even economically sustainable way. That's the informed view of Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr, chair of the multistakeholder working group on Public Feedback on Plastic Packaging Materials.

Having heard from manufacturers of single-use plastic 'scandal' bags as well as other food-packaging material as well as environmentalists and others opposed to the indiscriminate dumping of plastics and Styrofoam, Dr Lyew-Ayee Jr is convinced that a straight ban on the use of these items is definitely not the route to go.

"It is in the exploration and examination of the issue that we realise that this situation is quite complex. There are options about you putting on a surcharge to make the customer pay more for plastic bags. We have to understand that this isn't an uptown problem, that our people will happily pay more," he told The Gleaner.

"The issue is that when margins are so low in the retail industry, if I jack up my prices and you have to pay $10 extra dollars for this plastic bag, then you're just going to go to the man next door, who is not doing that. So it's not as easy as simply just adding a surcharge in the realistic world of a poor country. The thing is that there are broader issues at play. It's not just about incentivising people by charging them more. It's a lot more complicated process," Lyew-Ayee argued. Engaging young scientists to come with technologies to harvest and further process contents of the different waste streams is an avenue to explore.

Real opportunity to bridge industry and environment

Much of this insight about making an industry from waste plastic bags has come from the dialogue with manufacturers who are being blamed for their contribution to the growing garbage problem. That complication is caused by the failure of customers to properly dispose of the many easy-to-use containers at their disposal.

However, the solution to the problem does not have to end with environmentalists vigorously opposed to business operators who are operating within the law, according to Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr, chair of the multistakeholder working group on Public Feedback on Plastic Packaging Materials.

"Even in my individual capacity, this whole process has been very enlightening. To understand the passions of both sides is one thing, but we have to understand there is a very, very, real opportunity here to bridge the industry and environmental communities. Both of them are clearly doing research. This whole concept of biodegradable plastic is a product of research and development. The whole concept of analysing the plastic content of fish bellies is research and development, so there is an opportunity here. I don't know where, and I don't know in what field, but it is there," Lyew-Ayee declared.

However, getting the requisite buy-in from the Jamaican public, whose cooperation will be critical to the success of any national agenda to reduce, reuse, and recycle our solid waste. Any debate on developing industries from the waste streams must be predicated on empirical data and not in an ad hoc, knee jerk manner, he said.

"I want to begin to quantify these things. I want to be able to measure the jobs that are created in the plastics industry, the investments that are made in the plastics industry to support local manufacturing against the obvious impact on the environment."