Guyana’s Foam Ban Addresses Marine Debris

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I learned early last year that Guyana would be banning styrofoam (polystyrene) containers starting in 2016 and was super stoked to hear the news, especially considering that I knew I would be traveling there as part of eXXpedition Amazon.

Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency spearheaded the ban and newly elected government officials have been supportive of the ban since their focus on improving both solid waste infrastructure and litter control in the country.

While staying in Guyana this past December, I noticed that the capital city, Georgetown, had noticeable improvements in disposal options and litter control compared to other areas of the country.  After speaking with several locals in Georgetown and Bartica, I learned that the efforts had just begun within the last year and that within just 3 months, they had noticed a significant improvement in roadside litter in the Georgetown area.  I also learned that efforts to expand infrastructure and grassroots cleanup programs to other areas of the country were in the works, but that it would take time.

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Bags from a Roadside Cleanup in Georgetown, Guyana in December 2015

While I was in Bartica, the local tradition of disposing of waste along the river bank was still common practice (see images below).  The areas under piers and along the river looked like old school dumps and the amount of plastic being disposed of on the water’s edge was overwhelming. In other areas near Bartica (up river from Georgetown), the common practice of waste disposal included the open burning of trash, while in Georgetown there was noticeable trash collection services being provided and roadside cleanups taking place.

   Bartica, Guyana December 2015

According to several sources in Georgetown, the new government that took office last year has a huge focus on community environment improvement and have taken steps to help local organizations cleanup and greenup Guyana.  A cab driver that I spoke to in December went so far as to say that there would be a tax increase to improve infrastructure, but that it was well worth it to see the streets clean of debris and that the major improvements on solid waste collection and management would also cut down on disease and make the area more attractive for everyone.

The news on the ban is that as of April 1, 2016, the Styrofoam ban came into place and that the importation of these materials are now no longer allowed in Guyana.  This is great news for Guyana being able to reduce the waste going into landfills since they do not have the means to recycle it and the ban will also help them focus on new recycle programs that are in the works there.  

The country’s Ministry of Finance is also considering tax incentives for importers that bring in alternatives to polystyrene products, like compostable, recyclable, or reusable containers. This and efforts such as this could potentially help boost more sustainable companies and thus bring the cost of alternatives down on a global scale.

Guyana is setting an example that I hope others follow.  Government officials in Guyana are aware of the problems with single-use plastics that do not biodegrade and they are doing something about it.  With the news of the overwhelming global crisis of marine debris, Guyana is hearing the message and focusing on making improvements that their citizens can be proud of.  

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Lighthouse in Georgetown, Guyana