Have you ever noticed that almost every pile of garbage you see in public spaces is branded by a KFC package? It struck me the other day that Styrofoam containers, plastic bottles — for water and soft drinks — along with KFC waste were the most common feature of these nasty little cultural markers of T&T.
I am not blaming either KFC or the manufacturers of either the plastics or the drinks for the littering habits of this country. It is not their fault that people will not connect their acts of tossing everything at roadsides, and into bushes and watercourses with flooding, disease and the destruction of the natural beauty that we love to tout as sweet T&T.
I admit I have never bought into the idea that our tap water is not generally potable. I drink it all the time. I figure a water filter should be adequate for the sceptical and I cannot understand why we have become a nation so spellbound by marketing strategies that we have to have bottled water. Is it, like so many of the fashionable things that escape me, yet another trendy thing that I never caught?
All that plastic everywhere! The pollution of it boggles me.
And it isn't just the water; those excessively sweetened drinks that pervade the market, guzzled down in the hot sun for a moment's reprieve only to do a whole heap of damage of a different polluting kind to the body. Now that the Ministry of Health has started making noises about them, one producer has begun labelling its drinks as 25 per cent less sugar. It might be 25 per cent less, but of what total? These insanely colourful, artificially-flavoured products — in a land of so many delicious fruits — must be the most insidious of them all on account of the diminutive size targeted for the very young. They are drinks that grow on little minds, increasingly addicted to high sugar levels from small, and are indubitably linked to the increasing cases of children developing type 2 diabetes before even hitting puberty, and the problem of obesity, among other avoidable ailments.
The makers of these products have been at it for so long that entire generations only know these lifestyles. A KFC and a sweetdrink — how regularly do we consume them?
It is time that we demand that the contributors to these habit-forming slow-poisons and their receptacles make some effort to contribute to alleviating the damage of both maladies — environmental and health –— in meaningful ways, because they must recognise their role in the current parlous state of the country's health.
There are several ways they can do so. They can be part of public awareness campaigns that teach people about the effects of poor eating habits and the links to chronic non-communicable diseases. They can and should develop products that are more nutritious and less damaging. They can contribute to the cost of health care; fund research in diabetes, for instance.
In the environmental area, they could fund educational campaigns establishing the links between littering and flooding and disease, and so on.
They could invest in driving a nationwide recycling campaign. They should be the ones spending money to remove the plastic and polystyrene clogging us all.
Notwithstanding our super-inflated ideas about how grand this place is, we live on an island with limited land space. Denuded hillsides, indiscriminate building, poor land use and disgusting litter have combined to create perennial crises when it rains.
Whatever the State has done to try to address these issues, it has been not enough and worse, the situations have even been exacerbated by careless licences and ineffectual monitoring and penalties.
Somewhere around 1999, the Beverage Containers Bill was drafted. Where has it reached? In January 2011, The Minister of Housing and the Environment, Roodal Moonilal told an environmental conference that 15 to 20 million containers pollute our environment monthly, and that pushing this legislation was an "absolute priority". The final draft bill had been reviewed, he said, and it would soon be taken to Cabinet. In October, during his budget presentation, Finance Minister Winston Dookeran mentioned that they were still finalising the bill.
Five months ago, in June, Minister Moonilal, speaking at the EMA's Green Leaf Awards ceremony, said the bill would be going to Parliament "in the very near future". It is unfortunate that this bill has not excited the fervour of legislators in the same way that say, Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act did, or it would not be languishing even as the minister proclaimed it as an absolute priority on his agenda.
If the State is sending the message that these are not important matters, that they are only things to bring up when one has to speak at environmental functions, then it may be too much to ask that there be legislative force to demand that corporate citizens do their part.
We cannot keep allowing corporate fat cats to ignore their social responsibility while they lap away at profits. There are actions we can take as the consuming public. We have to take responsibility for our actions too. All of us have a part to play: State and citizen, corporate and individual.