Enough is Enough! The Fight for a Trash Free Caribbean Sea

Mar 06, 2017

The Caribbean is home to more than 700 islands and coastal countries that are connected by a shared resource - the Caribbean Sea. 

This Sea forms the lifeblood of the region’s tourism, maritime and fisheries industries.   However, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, valuable coastal and marine resources are under increasing threat from land and marine-based sources of pollution.

Pollution from solid waste, and in particular from plastics, has emerged as one of the greatest global challenges.  And for a region like the Caribbean, whose prosperity depends on its crystal clear waters and clean beaches, there is a need for immediate action. 

Everyday, 8,000,000 new solid waste items become marine litter in our oceans and seas.  The Ocean Conservancy reported that without global action, there could be as much as one ton of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish in our oceans by 2025.  

For major Caribbean cities, solid waste collection coverage can be as low as only 50%.  Where does the rest of this garbage go? What impact is having on our human health, the environment and jobs?

The economic impacts from Marine litter pollution are tremendous. The estimated value of shoreline protection services provided by Caribbean reefs is between US$700 million and US$2.2 billion per year. Within the next 50 years, coral degradation and death could lead to losses totaling US$140 million to US$420 million annually.

The UN Environment-Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP), based in Kingston, Jamaica, has worked with national, regional and international partners to develop and implement practical solutions to address the negative impacts of pollution on the coastal and marine environment.   This is being done within the framework of the only existing regional agreement that promotes cooperation for pollution prevention, reduction and control - The Protocol on the Control of Land Based Sources of Marine Pollution (LBS Protocol).

Caribbean Governments, Civil Society, Researchers, Non-Governmental Organizations, Private Industry and Local Communities have been working together to protect the environment from marine litter and other sources of marine pollution.  But, much more needs to be done.

The recently adopted Caribbean Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter Management (RAPMaLi) provides guidance on actions to protect the region’s fragile coastal and marine ecosystems from solid waste and marine litter. 

Recommendations include the need to:

  • improve the collection, transport and disposal of solid waste;
  • restrict the importation and use of single-use plastics;
  • promote recycling and re-use; identify more environmentally friendly alternatives to packaging material such as styrofoam, and
  • develop new job opportunities relating to solid waste and plastics management.

Underlining these recommendations is the importance of ongoing public awareness and education.  This will enable changes in attitudes, behavior and practices to ensure longer term sustainability.

The Trash Free Waters International Initiative is the most recent effort to implement a more integrated solid waste management approach.  Developed initially as a domestic programme for the United States, the expansion to the Caribbean region was announced at the “Our Oceans Conference” in 2015.

Trash Free Waters – Caribbean will be implemented by national stakeholders and coordinated through a partnership involving UN Environment, Peace Corps and US Environmental Protection Agency.  The main objective is to prevent and reduce marine litter through improved solid waste management at the local community level supported by education and awareness raising activities. The two countries participating in this initial phase are Jamaica and Panama.

Following the recent launch of the partnership in Jamaica in 2016, national stakeholders representing government, private sector and non-governmental organizations met at a three day workshop from February 14-16, 2017 to discuss and agree on next steps.  While several challenges were outlined, more importantly the group identified opportunities for improving waste management at national and community levels.  The group also agreed to priority project concepts, identified sources of funding and committed to work together to address this common problem. 

With initial seed funding from the US EPA, UN Environment and the Peace Corps, the priority projects will be implemented over the next two years.  UN Environment will work through existing regional networks such as the Caribbean Regional Node for Marine Litter Management and the Global Partnerships on Marine Litter and Solid Waste to source additional funding to replicate and upscale these activities throughout the Wider Caribbean Region.

While the individual projects may appear to be no more than a “drop in the ocean”, the local Jamaican phrase “one one coco fill basket” means we will not solve the problem of waste management overnight. However, by working together in partnerships – community by community, our vision of a Trash Free Caribbean Sea will be realized.

For more information, please contact UN Environment-Caribbean Environment Programme at Connect on Facebook: and Twitter at:, and Youtube at:

This press release can be downloaded here.