Government Failure or Business Opportunity?

Vegware Barbados

Biodegradable vs Compostable

You walk into Raw Juice, you pick up a box of three cashew and raisin energy balls and a Popeye Juice. You want to live healthy and junk food isn’t allowed in your house. You can’t stand the smell of pollution and you get so angry when you see people littering everywhere.
We have some really bad news for you.

Your footprint is a lot deeper than you might want to believe.

They aren’t the same and you have probably misunderstood biodegradable for a long time.

Biodegradable is supposed to be a nice thing where banana skins are eaten by insects and birds which then takes the nutrients back into the food chain. To a degree that’s what it is. So what happens with biodegradable plastic bags? It turns out that they end up in the food chain too and that, is not good at all. What about biodegradable plastic cups like the ones Raw Juice hands you? What about the plastic containers for your cashew energy balls?

The clear plastic containers do biodegrade into much smaller pieces of plastic and eventually even turn back to basic petrol compounds. The compounds are so small that fish can eat them and so abundant that when we eat fish we are eating the plastic cup that we threw in the bin.

Thank goodness we don’t eat fish in Barbados. Imagine if fishing was one of our main industries; we would be shooting ourselves in the foot every time we walked away from a store. Polystyrene would be a disaster as well because it really is a double-edged sword. On one hand it isn’t biodegradable and on the other, crack it even slightly and polystyrene dust comes out. Crack it properly and we have thousands of airborne polystyrene pieces that float onto the beaches and back into the food chain that we proudly dominate.

Guyana, Antigua and Dominica have banned polystyrenes specifically because of how bad it is for their population. In fact, Guyana had to ban it because so much polystyrene had accumulated in their sewage systems that it was blocking their pipes.

Is there a solution? Yes. Do we need the government? Not really but it wouldn’t hurt, much.

This is the perfect time to bring in compostable items because they are very different. This whole time, we have been using the word biodegradable, when we actually meant compostable. Compostable items can be left in a composter and they will biodegrade into a substance that can be readily used to go back into the food cycle. Compostable items will break down into an organic substance that we can use again. The difference between biodegradable and compostable is about whether we can use the residue to go back into nature. Biodegradable just isn’t enough.

Waiting for the government to implement a law is like waiting for a London bus. You will get battered waiting in the rain until you finally give up. At that moment three will arrive the same time and they will all be going in the wrong direction.

Does a solution even exist?!

Countries around the world have implemented solutions of all kinds to deal with pollution and it’s a nice idea to have reusable bags. Some countries have banned supermarkets giving out bags altogether. In one fell swoop France had to learn to go to supermarkets with cardboard boxes at the ready because there was no alternative at the check-out. In fact, Cost-U-Less already does that here. But what about all the plastic cups and polystyrene that we pick up everywhere we eat? We want to have a solution for all that plastic refuse but let’s not start pretending that we’re going to turn up at a juice bar with our own cups. It makes no practical sense. What about every $10 lunch out of the back of a van that is packed in a polystyrene box with a knife and a fork that just add insult to injury? Heat affects polystyrene which allows it to penetrate your food… And that’s carcinogenic!

We interviewed Jo Pooler from Bico when we found out that they started importing Vegware. What we learned blew our minds. To discuss the region’s energy and environmental laws, we invited, Lisa-Ann Fraser, an Attorney with a Masters in both Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Law and in Legislative Drafting. Her passion to bring further reform to the laws that address climate change brought great insight into the business and politics of international and regional legislative frameworks that guide us.

Entrepreneurship begins with a problem. Solving that problem is your business plan.

Vegware produces all of the cups, plates and cutlery that we see every day with one big difference. All of them are made from organic materials and nothing is compromised. They aren’t expensive and you can’t see any differences. The transparent cups are made from plant-based materials like corn-starch and are 100% compostable. By definition this means that they are certified to decompose in a maximum of 12 weeks using an industrial composter.

So Jo tested the products at the Lion’s Share. We wrote about the lunch spot back in November 2015 but we didn’t know that Steven, the owner, had made a composter. Jo dropped some Vegware in his home-made composter and within five weeks everything had deteriorated into organic refuse. Five. Weeks.

Steven, could take that refuse and use it to grow more food for his restaurant because those cups were corn-starch to begin with.
Our problem is solved and we can start using the solution immediately. We don’t have to wait for government intervention, laws, prohibitions or extreme plastic-bag rules.

Jo set out to live in a clean Barbados. Rather than looking at how we can clean-up the mess, she looked for the root of the problem – the rest is just symptomatic. The government can continue arguing with itself and repeating how the people should not worry themselves but for every day that passes we are failing ourselves, and our children.

Cin Cin, Mama Mia, Animal Flower Cave and From on the Rocks are companies that have started using Vegware to replace their polystyrene takeaway boxes. Think about all of the street vendors, smoothie joints, lunch vans and beaches that can instantly, starting today, go from highly damaging to being 100% compostable. Is pricing an issue? Actually, no.

Asking herself the right question was the crucial step to starting her business. She could have looked for a solution that cleaned up or educated the children. Instead she asked herself if we really have to use our polystyrene in the first place.

The impact is unprecedented.

Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

The populations of small island developing states are acutely vulnerable to environmental degradation, climate change, overexploitation of fisheries resources and land-based pollution. Moreover, we share a number of disadvantages, including small populations, a narrow range of available resources and an excessive dependence on international trade. This makes us all vulnerable to global changes. In addition, we suffer from lack of economies of scale, high transportation and costly public administration.

Ms. Fraser added that, when looking at the vulnerability of small island developing states like ourselves, we may think of the Kyoto/Rio/Johannesburg Declarations but we forget that the international commitment for SIDS was signed right here in Barbados. It is commonly known as the Barbados Declaration. This document addressed priority areas and specific actions needed by SIDS which included climate change and sea-level rise, waste management, natural and environmental disasters, coastal and marine resources, and human resources development.

Why were you not the person to think of finding compostable products for your country?

Take a step back and think about how you can fix everything there is to fix around you. Each and every single one of these is a business opportunity. The greatest fallacy is to believe that government will take care of it.

Do it and become a successful entrepreneur. As you do, it will change the rest of your life.

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