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Earth Day 2012-Tobago Takes Strides Towards Going Green

"What we're actually looking at is a race between tipping points: between natural, environmental tipping points on the one hand and political tipping points on the other." Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute

As the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) nears, an issue looms large in the minds of many: whether countries, communities, and world leaders have the political will to commit to sustainable development and green economies before it’s too late. Essie Parks, a leader from the Community Solutions Program (CSP), and the Division of Health and Social Sciences at the Tobago House of Assembly in Trinidad and Tobago, recently showed that political and environmental tipping points can coincide when community leaders take concerted action toward, as Parks says, “engendering a society that seeks to promulgate socially desirable, economically viable and environmentally sound initiatives.”

The Tobago House of Assembly on the small Caribbean island known for being “Clean, Green, Safe and Serene” has taken steps to live up to its motto through more sustainable waste management and a commitment to green jobs. Parks, a program officer in the Assembly’s Division of Health and Social Services, is working with the department leadership to make Tobago an environmentally sustainable island and explore using a “Zero Waste” framework to achieve their objectives.

The philosophy of zero waste seeks to minimize the trash that is sent to landfills and incinerators and redesign resource life cycles so that almost all products are reused. Such a philosophy is very important to small island economies, like Tobago, which don’t have the space or resources to continue to build landfills.

Through CSP, Parks worked with EcoCycle in Boulder, CO, where she learned technicalities of zero waste and other recycling programs, and received hands on experience in managing and implementing such systems. Parks, EcoCyle, and members of the Division of Health and Social Services in Tobago are working together to design a plan to move Tobago from a landfill-reliant community to a zero waste community. Thus far, the Division has conducted a waste characterization study and ordered a digital truck scale for a major landfill. Both of these measures will inform the Division of exactly how much and what type of garbage is being generated on the island and by which sectors. 

Parks’s work with the Division doesn’t stop at the policy level. The Division is also seeking to implement the four R’s of waste management: reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover. With Parks at the helm with other key staff, the Division is working to establish pilot recycling projects in Tobago. It also recently installed new waste bins on a main thoroughfare in Scarborough, the capital city, and expanded the Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP), which creates 305 new jobs in the environmental sector.

On April 22, communities across the globe planted neighborhood gardens, cleaned up their streets, and practiced energy consciousness in their daily lives. As a part of the Earth Day Network’s Billion Acts of Green campaign, concerned citizens worldwide are letting their leaders know they don’t take the issue of sustainability lightly. If more communities and civil servants listened to that plea and shared the concern and urgency for action as Parks and the Tobago House of Assembly, then those at Rio +40 will be talking about challenges the global community tackled, not its missed opportunities.

The Community Solutions Program is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and is implemented by IREX.