CAPRI | Solving the plastic bottle crisis
While plastics offer unrivalled advantages over other packaging materials (including versatility, durability and low cost), a walk across Kingston makes it hard to miss the downsides of the growth of plastic use in Jamaica - in particular that of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the type of plastic used for making drink bottles (water, soda, etc).
Jamaica uses and disposes of almost one billion PET bottles annually, equivalent to 350 bottles per person each year. Currently, only 10 per cent of these bottles are captured for recycling and export. Most of the 90 per cent remainder is disposed of along with other household waste, costing millions of dollars in waste management each year.
Some of this 90 per cent is also improperly disposed of, causing litter, which is not only unsightly, but blocks drains causing flooding during rain fall, and creates breeding sites for mosquitoes. As most of this litter ultimately ends up in the sea, it also degenerates our coastline and causes harm to our marine ecosystems, upon which our economy depends heavily .
We are, however, far from being the only ones struggling with a PET bottle crisis. Countries around the world have implemented various systems to try to reduce the high numbers of PET bottles disposed of each day. The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) analysed these with a view to informing an approach for Jamaica.
PLASTIC BOTTLE BANS
Some US and Australian cities have implemented plastic bottle bans, making it illegal to import or sell PET bottle-packaged items, namely beverages, while promoting alternatives such as making free drinking water widely available across cities. Bans, however, are frequently met with significant resistance from manufacturers, as was the case in India. There is also little information available on their success. A lack of sustainable and viable alternatives would make a ban difficult to implement in Jamaica currently.
Certain countries, such as South Korea, have set up a 'pay-as-you-throw' system, which requires residents to either purchase garbage bags as a form of advanced payment for the disposal of household waste, or pay a monthly fee for management of their garbage depending on the size of their garbage bins. US experience with this method revealed a 17 per cent decrease in household waste; at the same time, however, an increase in illegal dumping has been observed as a result of the restrictions and the costs of disposal.
Raising collection rates
A Deposit refund schemes (DRS), or deposit system, for plastic bottles involves the payment of a sum of money by the consumer when he/she purchases, in our case, a drink in a plastic bottle. Once this bottle is returned, the deposit is refunded (in full or partially). The principle is that the deposit acts as an incentive for consumers to return their bottles to designated collection points to get their refund - this facilitates and increases centralised collection for recycling of the bottles.
In Israel, a DRS was effective in raising the collection rate of PET from 33 per cent in 2001, when it started, to 68 per cent in 2009. South Australia, Finland and Sweden all have DRS, and high capture rates of 80 per cent, 92 per cent and 82 per cent, respectively for PET bottles.
In the United States, states with deposit schemes have considerably higher capture rates than states without. Recycling rates of beverage containers - aluminum cans, PET bottles and glass bottles - in states where deposit systems exist, are more than double those of states with no deposit system. Michigan, the state with the highest deposit value, claims the highest recovery rate at 97 per cent.
CAPRI's research, supported by consultations with stakeholders, indicates that a deposit refund scheme has the potential to be successful in reducing the prevalence of PET bottles in Jamaica's waste stream and in the environment, as it provides a financial incentive for consumers to return PET bottles allowing for more centralised management and processing of PET for export for recycling. A DRS would therefore reduce the volume of PET litter and the associated negative environmental effects. A DRS would also reduce the volume of waste going to the landfill, and thus reduce the public cost of solid waste management. Given the existing burden on the resources of the National Solid Waste Management Agency (see CAPRI's Rethinking Solid Waste Management study, available on capricaribbean.org), this is a considerable bonus for Jamaica.
Finally, the basic infrastructure for the implementation of a DRS already exists in Jamaica (recycling organisations, collection systems, PET recovery initiatives) - even if not yet at the required logistical scale for a national roll-out.
Does this mean we should dive right in? Costs for implementation of a DRS can be significant. An objective assessment of the economic costs and benefits of a DRS for Jamaica, considering the different options for structuring it, should be conducted to ensure informed decision-making for DRS implementation.
Given this, CAPRI is conducting a cost-benefit analysis of a deposit refund scheme for Jamaica, in order to quantify the economic value of what may be a considerable, but transformative investment for waste management, recycling and environmental responsibility in Jamaica.
More details on the merits of a deposit refund scheme for PET bottles will be available as CAPRI's latest study is published next month. It will be available via capricaribbean.org.
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