Economic Benefits of Industrial Symbiosis in Plastics in Trinidad and Tobago

February 4, 2021

Plastic products permeate every facet of human life, with current production patterns equivalent to more than one tonne of plastic for every person alive today. This has in turn resulted in significant environmental and public health impacts which range from flooding to microplastics in our food. Only around 10 percent of the plastic waste generated between 1950 and 2015 has been recycled. The remaining 90 percent has been discarded either in landfills, waterways or elsewhere in the environment and will take an estimated 500-1000 years to break down. The low rate of recycling is not only attributed to the lack of recycling systems but also to the perceived non-profitability of plastic recycling. 

The Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP) which is implemented by the UNDP, supports local action to address global environmental challenges - providing financial and technical support to communities and civil society organizations for projects that protect the environment and demonstrate significant potential for scaling up. Areas of work include biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, conservation of international waters, chemicals and waste management, and sustainable land management. 

In October 2020, the GEF SGP in Trinidad and Tobago and the Flying Tree Environmental Management (FTEM) - a grantee of the GEF SGP - presented the joint paper “Industrial Symbiosis (IS) in Plastics: A Caribbean cluster-based case for a viable Caribbean Circular Economy” at the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association’s 29th Annual Conference and Exhibition. (click link to paper)

Industrial symbiosis brings companies together in innovative collaborations, finding ways to use the waste from one as raw material for another. The word “symbiosis” is usually associated with relationships in nature, where two or more species exchange materials, energy, or information in a mutually beneficial manner. Cooperation in industrial symbiosis can reduce the need for virgin raw material and waste disposal, creating a circular economy in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. It can also reduce emissions and energy use and create new revenue streams. 

The paper looks at an industrial symbiotic cluster in plastics in Trinidad and Tobago and how this addresses plastic pollution through re/upcycling and the benefits of the cluster, which extend beyond the conventional bottom line - not only documenting the technical aspects and environmental benefits of the re/upcycling effort, but also providing a space to incorporate learning in order to scale the effort regionally. It supports an understanding of some of the local actions being taken to address plastic pollution and how these contribute to the realization of national goals for waste management as well as the relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Clear social, economic and environmental benefits are detailed, with strong support for the strength and viability of the described industrial symbiotic cluster and recommendations for development and implementation of strategies.   

Click here to read the paper in full