A Reflection on World Environment Day 2023: The Story of the Bottle Cap

by HCC

Plastic bottle floating in the seaThe story of the bottle cap is one that resonates with all of us. As we traverse our beautiful tropical islands, plastic bottles can be found in our environment including at our beaches. While we pride ourselves on being Caribbean people, too often we do not protect the very land and sea that gives us this privilege. While littering may not seem like a “big deal” on the contrary, the environmental impact can be quite large. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the Caribbean is the second most plastic contaminated sea in the world (UNEP, 2019) with plastic bottles being the most common plastics found in our waters (Birds Caribbean, 2019). This can have major implications on marine life, such as lacerations, suffocation and other forms of injury or illness (IUCN, 2021). Plastic waste can be regarded as a “silent killer” leading to the death of seabirds throughout the Caribbean (Bird Caribbean, 2019). Plastic is also known to affect the nesting, breeding and feeding of these animals, which may have consequences for the food chain. While the long term impact is unknown, we owe it to the future generations to minimize exposure as much as possible.

person with quote about pollution above them
It may seem easy to ignore what occurs in our ocean, after all it’s not always visible to the naked eye, however what happens in our oceans affects both human and planetary health. For instance, a plastic bottle in the ocean can break down over time into microplastics which are then consumed by fish in the sea. When fisherfolks are out in the ocean, they may catch the fish which is then sold at our local fish market for consumption to the general population. Plastics that are inappropriately discarded, can find their way into the human body. The United States National Ocean Service highlights that very little is known about microplastics and their impact on marine and human life (NOS, 2023). Therefore it is prudent that we act now and protect our oceans from plastic pollution, to protect our health and animal health.

Inappropriate disposal of plastic bottles is not only a concern for the marine environment, it also poses a threat on land as it can be used as a breeding ground for mosquitoes when water settles in discarded plastic waste. Mosquitoes are not only a nuisance, but pose many  threats to human health such as the spread of dengue fever, zika virus, chikungunya and other related diseases.

Another critical element to consider when discussing the impact of plastic pollution is the link between plastics and unhealthy foods high in salt, sugar and fat. The Big Food industry uses plastic packaging for many food and drink products and despite some actors’ ‘pledges’ to make their plastic packaging more sustainable, global reports [1] indicate that major players continue to use ‘more virgin plastic’ despite efforts to reduce their use. This equates to more plastic waste; the products and their packaging have long term health consequences for both humans and the planet. These ultra processed products have played a significant role in the nutritional transition that has occurred in the Caribbean fuelling high rates of NCDs and obesity. This is a reminder of the strong interlinkages between health and the environment and the need for synergistic solutions to address both of these issues.
Person with quote about plastic bottles next to them

Undoubtedly, plastic does more harm than good and it is time for us to think critically about our use and disposal of plastics and the harm to human and planetary health. We’ve made great strides in technological advancement and infrastructure, but we have the potential to create sustainable solutions to plastic pollution and address this crisis if we act now.

Person with quote about waste next to them
World Environment Day was celebrated on June 5 2023. Plastic production and related pollution presents a major threat to SIDS like those in the Caribbean. The urgency with which we need to collectively address this issue cannot subside.

Healthy Caribbean Youth (HCY), the youth arm of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, is a regional group of young health advocates with various backgrounds who are passionate about promoting good health and supportive environments for children and youth.

[1] https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/press-release-progress-needs-fresh-acceleration