The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation is again calling on Parliament to ban single-use plastic products such as plastic bags, straws and cutlery and styrofoam food containers in an effort to reduce marine litter and pollution on St Maarten. Single use plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental catastrophes of this generation. These types of plastics are also a major contributor to the current situation at the Philipsburg landfill.
At least 9 million tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans each year, a rate that has increased 100 times in the past 40 years. If current trends continue there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Single use plastic bags, straws, cutlery and Styrofoam food containers are some of the most environmentally damaging products on the island. These items do not biodegrade and stay in the ecosystem and oceans for ever, causing impacts to the environment, animals and humans. Plastic releases harmful chemicals when it breaks down into smaller pieces that are ingested by marine life and eventually humans. Single use plastics are especially harmful to sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, coral reefs and fish that are smothered, choked and otherwise harmed or killed by the plastic products.
“St Maarten uses a remarkable amount of single-use plastics every day, as plastic bags are given for free for every purchased item and plastic straws with any drink. Also takeout food in Styrofoam is normal and very popular, this also includes plastic cutlery. We calculated that Dutch St Maarten alone uses more than 1.4 billion plastic straws a year; straws are used for a few minutes and last forever in the environment. A lot of our single-use plastics end up in our environment and ocean due to littering and poor garbage disposal. Besides, St Maarten just cannot handle this much single-use plastic waste, our dump is already overfull” stated Nature Foundation’s Project Officer Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern.
Worldwide, there is growing interest in protecting the environment and moving away from single-use plastics. Over 200 nations have already either banned items like plastic bags and straws or require consumers to pay a fee per use. Recently even the EU proposed to ban single-use plastic products in order to reduce the massive amount of ocean pollution. The Sint Maarten landfill reached its maximum capacity already in 2008 and garbage bins along beaches are overflowing daily, there is simply no more room for unnecessary waste.
“Single-use plastic products are easy to be replaced with more environmentally sustainable materials; reusable products are highly recommended, such as reusable shopping bags, these bags are much more durable and stronger, the less waste we create the better for our waste problems. Single-use products can easily be substituted by biodegradable products such as paper straws or biodegradable cups and food containers, which are all already available on the island.”
Through the Reduce & Reuse St Maarten’ project, the Nature Foundation is fighting plastic pollution and is teaching and encouraging residents, children and businesses to reduce their plastic waste output and clean-up the environment. Part of the project is to lobby for a Single-use plastic ban, as awareness on its own will not reduce the massive amounts of waste created and left behind on beaches and in the environment. In order to protect our environment for the generations to come, to reduce our landfill and to changes St Maarten’s image of a garbage island into an eco-friendly destination, a ban on single-use plastics is needed. Thanks to the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine and the Heineken Regatta for their generous donations towards the Reduce and Reuse project.