Dominican Republic has a problem with Plastic

The Problem

The Caribbean nation is grappling with waves of garbage washing up on its shores, a vivid reminder of the presence of thousands of tons of plastic in the world’s oceans.

But instead of visitors relaxing on Montesinos Beach in the capital, Santo Domingo, there has been an altogether different scene, one unlikely to wind up on a postcard: Hundreds of city workers and volunteers who have been waging an uphill battle against wave after wave of sludgy garbage.

Images have shown teams using pikes, shovels and excavators to lift the garbage, only to be met with new waves carrying even more.

The plastic waste washing onto Montesinos Beach comes from the Ozama River, which flows into the Caribbean nearby, one of those in charge of the cleanup, Gen. Rafael Antonio Carrasco, told Reuters.

What you don’t see in the all the waste on the beach is all the toxic stuff, once it is out in the open, plastic breaks down and releases chemicals that are impossible to capture.

Wildlife trapped in the debris and humans affected by the toxic particles in the waves are all at risk, local environmentalists said.

There are local environmentalists currently on site working with the navy, the army, public workers and the municipal government. Over 500 public workers were mobilized for the operation, and after three days of work teams had collected 30 tons of plastic. So far, six tons of that has been recovered by and transformed into a premium material used to create products that act as symbols of change and fund the battle against marine plastic pollution. Machinery and trucks have been drafted in to deal with the massive tide of plastic, much of which will have to be sent to landfill because it is mixed and contaminated. The mayor of Santo Domingo is giving us the city’s full support and hopes to divert as much usable plastic as possible to transformation.

Beyond assisting with clean-up efforts, the environmentalists are working to implement the AIR strategy (Avoid, Intercept, Redesign) island-wide. Working with local leaders and government, the plan focuses on education and communication, identifying the root of the problem, and working with policy-makers improve the island’s waste and recycling infrastructure.

In total, over 1000 tons of debris has now been removed from the impacted region in Santo Domingo since July 13th [2018]. Despite these efforts, more plastic arrives with the tides each day. Parley is working on a long-term plan for the Dominican Republic and will remain on the ground there. As part of the AIR strategy, we will continue to organize ongoing clean-ups, implement education initiatives and develop waste management strategies with our local partners.

An estimated 8 million metrics tons of plastic trash ends up in our oceans every year. The ocean currents have formed five gigantic, slow moving whirlpools where the plastic collects, called gyres. Most of the plastic debris sinks or remains in the gyres, however a significant percentage of it washes onto our coastlines daily.

According to WWF, plastic pollution in the ocean has three primary sources: discarding of recyclable plastic in non-recycling bins, littering, and objects flushed down toilets. Small bits of the latter are too small for wastewater filtering, are consumed by small marine species, and wind up in the food chain.

Tourism flourishes in the Caribbean but the amount of plastic that keeps washing up on its beaches is a matter of concern. It destroys not only the beauty of the “unspoiled natural paradise” but poses a major risk to the marine animals and the birds. They get entangled in the web of plastic waste and perish. Therefore, the authorities have launched drives to clean the litter manually by deploying teams of people.

Sky News reports that in the opinion of an official of Santo Domingo local authority, there is no secret about the origin of the problem. The plastic waste originates in Santo Domingo and the nearby province of Monte Plata.

Clean-up operation in the Caribbean

The volume of plastic accumulating on the beaches is mindboggling and the local administration is tackling the issue on a war footing by deploying troops of the Dominican Republic on the clean-up operation. The exercise is of unimaginable proportions and the amount of waste that gets added daily is several times more than what is being removed from the scene.

The Caribbean troops are working hand in hand with conservationists, local government agencies and residents to clean the unwanted trash that harms marine lives.

Animals and birds consume these items and die. There have been instances of plastic waste causing the death of enormous animals like whales. The possible dangers cannot be ignored because the plastic is a non-biodegradable substance and upsets the ecological balance.

Magnitude of the problem

Beaches in the Caribbean attract tourists but the amount of plastic that washes up is not a pleasant sight. The authorities have initiated efforts to bring back the clean surroundings. According to the TRT World, a team of conservationists from the Parley group has taken up the task of removing the eyesore from the beaches. The team is working with the local navy, Santo Domingo authorities and residents and have, so far, removed nearly 60 tonnes of plastic.

People have been recruited for the clean-up but the speed of removal is no match for the arrival of fresh trash.

This is not a problem for only the Dominican Republic, but environmentalists say it is a major global issue. The environmental group estimates that there are trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans and their total weight could be more than 250,000 tonnes. The worst part is that the figure keeps increasing every moment.