Trash to Treasure
Approximately 800 tonnes of waste has been received daily by the Sustainable Barbados Recycling Centre in 2019 - that’s the size of 4 blue whales, the largest animal on Earth.
As a young child growing up with my father in the waste management industry, I didn’t pay much attention to what he did nor did I think at that time that I would now spend so much time talking about waste. Little did I know then that this was way more than garbage trucks and trash but a health, environmental and economic challenge and one of national concern. Rather than it being waste or something dirty or smelly, instead it was a resource.
Fast forward 20 years where a friend and I entered and made it into the top 5 of an entrepreneurship competition with a waste management concept. We then became business partners and created our first company, Be.Leaf Barbados 7 years ago and those ideas which we pitched then are only now being implemented by others.
Why has it taken some of us so long to see that we have a waste management challenge in Barbados and that we must do more as individuals, private, public and third sector? Why is it that people feel that they can illegally dump a fridge, tv, mattress, couch or dead animal in a gully or on the side of the road? How can we all work together to come up with solutions to ensure more effective waste management?
Did you know that reuse, repurposing and recycling has the potential to divert approximately 70% of solid waste from the national landfill? Let us revisit the 6 R’s that were mentioned in a previous blog: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recover, Repurpose and Recycle. Recycle comes in at the end of this list. However, for many it is often one of the easiest R’s to commit to or feel like they are playing their part but it is not enough. Recycling is not the solution to our waste problem but it is a viable option that can be a small part of the solution if done correctly. However, it must be noted that much of what the World thinks is being recycled isn’t; that China no longer accepts recycling from the US market, one of our primary recycling markets and that some countries are now shipping waste back to these same countries that it came from.
Recycling, a process that takes time, energy and money is a better fit for materials such as metal and glass whereas many of the plastic products are downcycled and still make their way to the landfill. However, our primary goal should be diversion away from the current landfill, which has a lifespan.
So what can be recycled in Barbados?A list of items including paper/ cardboard, some plastic (there are 7 types of plastic and not all can be recycled; no plastic bags or styrofoam), metal & tins, glass, newspaper, print ink , e-waste and oil.
How do I sort it and prepare it? It makes it easier to sort at source if you have separate bins, boxes, crocus bags or used feed or sugar bags under your sink or just outside in a garage or covered area for each category of item. I also keep an old cooking oil bottle outside to add used cooking oil to. You are probably thinking – my loss, this is a lot of effort but once you get accustomed to sorting this becomes part of your daily routine. If you have kids, this is a perfect project for them. So once I have removed lids, covers and labels and washed containers, jars etc, what do I do?
Where can I drop off or who collects it? There are a few options for drop off or collection including B’s Recycling. There are also community initiatives such as ASN Recycles which happens every 1st & 3rd Saturday at the roundabout in the Atlantic Shores Neighbourhood. Many more of these community recycling projects are popping up such as with private waste haulers, Project Recycle and Skip Services that encourage sorting at source and curbside collection.
Contact businesses before to determine what they are currently accepting as this can change.
Of the list of petro - based single use plastic items banned in Barbados, B’s Recycling will accept plastic cutlery and plastic egg cartons but not the cups, plates nor styrofoam. Of the new alternatives on the market, some of these can be placed in a backyard or home compost but many indicate that they require an industrial or commercial facility. For some of the other alternatives, the potential of using pyrolysis to turn items into fuel is being investigated. Do you think that importers and distributors should be in charge of disposing of alternatives correctly through an adapted extended producer responsibility system?
Recycling is a broken system with many items that we buy designed for disposability. It has a place in the transition to a circular and regenerative economy but we need to look to the root cause - that a throwaway culture has become the norm and instead focus on fixing this. We must shift mindsets and create new culture. In order to manage our waste, we must first look at ourselves and how we can practice the first few R’s as well as composting. My focus with alternatives is on switching to support multi-use (reusable) over single use (disposable). We also need to be looking at organic waste, one of the major contributors to solid waste in Barbados, and encouraging more individuals to use it for compost or mulch. We must continue to work together to educate and spread awareness, starting in the schools, in the household, in the workplace, on the street, in the church. Consistent educational campaigns are key to ensuring that people have the knowledge to understand, care, act and then change.
For those items that cannot be recycled or composted, here are some general curbside collection tips when putting out your waste to be collected by the Sanitation Service Authority:
Place holes in the bottom of cans to allow for drainage
Close bags properly and secure to reduce attacks by animals
Do not discard medical waste such as needles (These should be placed in a plastic bottle and taken to the nearest polyclinic or to the hospital)
Wrap glass in newspaper before placing in bag for disposal
For bulky items such as large appliances, contact the SSA to arrange removal
Road kills on the highway can be reported to the Authority which is responsible for removal
To report illegal dumping, contact the Ministry of Health (usually the environmental officer at the nearest polyclinic)
Here’s a [potentially controversial] thought: If we bought and threw ‘away’ less, then maybe there would not be as big of an issue with garbage collection in our island! It starts with us - with you and with me!
A few people have asked me recently if I get tired of being referred to as the plastic or garbage or fish or seaweed girl but until more people are aware and start to see these ‘waste’ items as a resource, I will keep the name.
Here’s that odd request again: look through the bins in your house. It is time for an audit. See anything in there that should not be? Take action!
The first step to reducing waste is to consume less. The less you buy, the less waste you create. Next, replace single-use items with reusables wherever possible, and keep reusing them. Resourcefulness must replace wastefulness in lifestyle choices. Waste not, want not.
Let’s all work together to sort it out! As individuals, businesses or policy makers, we must play our part - whether it is by reusing an item, composting at home, expanding the Returnable Containers Act or creating anti-littering legislation, we must all collaborate to educate each other and place waste management as a national priority.
If interested in finding out more about waste management in Barbados, visit the
Barbados Solid Waste Management Programme of the Ministry of Environment and National Beautification: www.solid.gov.bb.