Countries around the world are increasingly acknowledging the detriment of plastic to the health of our planet. While China sits at the top of the world’s plastic heap, the Caribbean’s contribution to plastic waste and marine debris is significant.
Forbes reported in 2019 that the islands are guilty of being the biggest plastic polluters per capita in the world. Trinidad and Tobago tops the list with 1.5kg of waste produced per day. The root of the problem, waste management, has led to landfills overflowing with plastic waste.
Thus, single-use plastics bans have been implemented in islands such as Barbados, The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago to mitigate the issue. Businesses have been forced to seek alternatives to plastic, resulting in worldwide innovation strategies to combat the plastic problem.
Natural Alternatives to Packaging
Finding a sturdy alternative to styrofoam posed a challenge to business packaging items. Fortunately, natural alternatives are available.
Banana Leaf Packaging
Banana leaf packaging has been a longstanding practice in Asia, where items such as plates and food boxes are crafted from the leaves. The abundance of banana leaves in the Caribbean makes it an ideal alternative to single use packaging items. The leaves are moisture resistant, affordable, durable and can be composted.
Bamboo has also become a trending alternative material, with bamboo straws as a popular replacement for plastic straws. Bamboo is the fastest growing wood in the world, making it a renewable resource that will be replenished quickly. Its sustainability and thermal resistance are among the reasons why bamboo is a viable plastic alternative. Food boxes, plates and tea boxes are other bamboo based products.
Mycelium foam is now on the market and in demand for packaging. Mycelium is a bio-engineered form of hyphae made from agricultural waste. The roots of mushrooms or other fungi are used as binding agents. Mycelium has been used for scaffolding and organic plastics, yet it remains a top packaging option. Its lightweight and strong features make it flexible for both single-use and long term use
The single-use plastics ban has certainly diminished the plastic bag supply within Caribbean households. Most businesses now encourage the purchase and use of reusable bags for goods. The options for organic fabrics used to create the bags are expansive with unique characteristics.
- Jute Bags: the thick bags made of vegetable fibers make jute bags strong against wear and tear. Plans used to create the bags range from 40-100 plants, mostly cultivated in India and Bangladesh
- Woven and Non-Woven Polypropylene (PP) Bags: Non-woven PP bags, made from the by-products of oil manufacturing are 100% recyclable and eco-friendly. Woven PP bags, when laminated, are waterproof and make for vibrant designs
- Canvas Bags are generally thicker than cotton bags, and are sturdy for long-term usage.
The Caribbean is on the right path to reducing its dependence on plastic and resuscitating mother earth. With the use of resources found in the region or beyond, these creative and sustainable alternatives will make a large impact on the business world.