EDITORIAL – Preventing plastic from despoiling our beaches

As we report in today’s newspaper, volunteers working with Plastic Free Cayman removed more than 6.5 tons of plastic and other trash from Cayman’s beautiful beaches in the past year.

That is an impressive figure, especially when one considers that all that refuse (13,300 pounds, to be exact) was collected by a group of volunteers targeting one beach per month. One can only imagine the result if Cayman dedicated ample resources to clean up every public beach, every day.

It is not clear just how much of the trash on our beaches comes from Grand Cayman, and what percentage washes in from other sources – although it is a good bet that the vast majority of Cayman’s beach litter is “imported.” Many of the bottles, bags and containers that litter Cayman sand are from products sold and used in faraway places. The Caribbean Sea is awash in refuse, particularly plastic waste.

In less than two hours last month, volunteers at East End collected nearly 10,000 bottles and cans. Of those, 8,584 were made of plastic – a material which is particularly problematic, since it is not valuable for recycling and can be dangerous to marine animals and wildlife. Experts say plastics do not decompose in the marine environment but instead break down into ever-smaller pieces (called micro-plastics) that make their way into our food chain.

Stopping this pollution at the source will require multijurisdictional efforts that extend well beyond Cayman’s capabilities and borders. In a news release, the Ministry of Health, Environment, Culture and Housing commended Plastic Free Cayman, which has worked with the Department of Environment to audit some of the trash collected for inclusion in an international review.

In the meantime, something must be done to pluck empty beverage containers, discarded flip-flops, plastic bags and other unsightly and unhygienic litter and debris from our shores.

Plastic Free Cayman has suggested building their corps of volunteers by recruiting at schools and local businesses and exploring potential partnerships with hotels and cruise ship lines to enlist the help of Cayman’s visitors. May we suggest an alternative? Full-time, professional crews dedicated to the task.

This summer, hundreds of unemployed Caymanians signed up for a summer iteration of the National Community Enhancement Program. At the time, we suggested government offer full-time public employment to each NiCE participant who proved capable and reliable. After all, we wrote, keeping Cayman’s streets and beaches immaculate is an all-the-time undertaking, not a once-in-a-while endeavor.

We still believe it is an idea worth pursuing.

Full-time government beautification and cleanup crews would be able to keep Cayman’s persistent trash problems in check, yielding a pristine environment to be enjoyed by Cayman’s residents and visitors, alike. At the same time, a full-time program would reduce reliance on government’s social services programs while offering hundreds of struggling Caymanians the dignity of work.

The hardworking volunteers and efforts of Plastic Free Cayman should be recognized and applauded. There is nothing welcoming or inviting about a stretch of beach littered with detritus. There is no reason for an island nation so proud of and so dependent on its beautiful beaches not to do whatever it takes to keep them so.

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