Being a ‘Champion for the Environment’ comes with its challenges. Even though I spent months trying to convince my family members to collect plastics for the recycling bin, I never paid much attention to the challenges we face as individuals when choosing to do the right thing.
I’m not talking about the usual challenges such as the lack of government support through laws, or the non-believers and naysayers. I’m referring to those tiny sacrifices an individual may be forced to make in particular instances; for example restaurant choices.
Last Wednesday, my former teammates and I organised a small reunion as part of a send-off for a member who was embarking on a life-changing journey. As a result, we found ourselves eliminating restaurants by dinnerware options. It may seem rather odd, but I’m sure other environmentally conscious persons are aware of what I’m talking about.
Lead by our teammate Jeffrey, who made a personal pledge to avoid using styrofoam, we trotted around a mall complex like the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘, popping into various food places to ask if they provided non-disposable plates and cutlery. While we were determined in our quest to find such a fast-food outlet, the workers in some of these places were quite perplexed by our uncommon request. We’ve known each other since 2014, so this preference was nothing new to us.
Going through this process quickly taught us that our options for tasting something new was limited to none out of the four businesses that piqued our curiosity. In the end we ended up at the famous Pizza Hut; a place we have frequently visited for our group meetings. I cannot deny that we had hoped for a food place which offered non-disposable dinnerware.
Sometimes you get tired of having the same foods – the unhealthy selection also – and yearn for a change. However, due to certain circumstances, you’re left with no other choice but to yield. We could have easily sat down at any of the restaurants to have our meal in a styrofoam or paper container, but it seemed better to give up on the desire for something different for the sake of the environment.
You see, our team was formed solely to fulfill a requirement for Arthur Lok Jack’s MBA in Sustainable Energy Management program. Being subscribers to this particular program meant that we were like-minded individuals who became invested in promoting sustainable energy, and by extension, conserving and protecting the environment.
We were the students promoting concepts such as: reduce your energy consumption to reduce your carbon (CO^2) footprint, switch to renewable energy like solar power, invest in clean energy cars, etc. Quite a step away from our country’s general position on clean energy over the years.
Environmental conservation programs were up and running in Trinidad and Tobago, but a lot of them struggled to maintain a formidable presence and influence society. The country has laws which prohibit littering, however trash – including the glaring, white styrofoam – can be seen strewn about areas like Scotland Bay, Salybia Beach and along our main roads. It is also quite rare to hear of someone being caught and charged by the authorities for littering.
Up until recent years, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has been slow to enter the race for clean energy in the Caribbean and take steps towards banning harmful products. A mere two weeks before our get-together and conversation about the limitations of our anti-styrofoam protest, the Cabinet had approved a ban on styrofoam products . Then on July 28th, 2018, media headlines broke the news that the ban will become effective in 2019 .
￼This ban follows a petition  that was started by environmental groups in 2017, and marks a victory for those of us are fighting the ‘good fight’. I know that we still have a lot of strides to make with respect to achieving sustanability and protecting the environment, but at least we are seeing some action and change.
How is polystyrene (styrofoam) bad for the environment?
○ Remains in the environment
○ Small pieces are choking hazards to wildlife
○ Comprised of known carcinogens (cancer causing agents) 
Why is Trinidad and Tobago slow in the Renewable Energy Race?
Trinidad and Tobago has been in the oil and gas industry for over a century, and consequently citizens have been enjoying the benefits of subsidised energy since the first economic oil boom. Due to this subsidy, the electricity rates are among the lowest in the region, reaching US $ 0.05 per kilowatt-hour in comparison to the average of US $ 0.40 per kWh . Implementing renewable energy on a utility scale level would incur higher costs to Trinbagonian citizens, presenting a huge barrier to this change.
Here’s a scenario of how we benefit from this energy subsidy, even though it was reduced:
I visited St. Lucia a month ago and paid $65.00 EC* for a quarter (1/4) tank of gasoline for a rental. This is equivalent to $172.90 TT* for a quarter tank of gas. Whereas in Trinidad and Tobago, I pay $100.00 TT to fill three-quarters (3/4) of the tank in my car, which is the same size as the rental.
TT$ 172.90 for 1/4 tank in St. Lucia
TT$ 100.00 for 3/4 tank in Trinidad and Tobago
*EC – Eastern Caribbean Currency
*TT – Trinidad and Tobago Currency