INDEPENDENT Senator Anthony Vieira urged the creation of a local recycling industry rather than exporting valuable waste materials, in Friday’s Senate debate on the Scrap Metal Bill 2022.
He began with a personal anecdote that spelled out to him how much metal prices had risen in recent times, globally and locally.
“Last weekend I had to put up some hanging baskets outside my porch, and that required me to buy some metal chains. So I bought four lengths at 12 feet each, costing $55 per foot. Sounds reasonable.
“But when I reached the cashier I realized to my shock that the cost was $2,658 plus VAT, for four lengths of chain. I had little appreciation steel chains could cost so much.
“It turns out that metal prices – be it steel, iron, aluminum, brass, or copper – have sky-rocketed, for several reasons.”
He blamed global conditions including a timber shortage, US tariffs, higher freight rates since the covid19 pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine making metals scarce.
“For whatever reason, the trade in metals is so profitable and so lucrative that even the underworld has muscled in on the action.”
Vieira related foreign cases of metal theft including Jamaica, where water pipes, bridges, and even handles from exhumed coffins were looted; Canada, where thefts occurred of traffic lights, street signs, and metal guard rods; and the US, where church bells and organs were stolen.
“In South Africa, it was so bad that a total ban was imposed for several months to protect the country’s infrastructure. In November 2021 alone, more than 200 km of steel rail was stolen across the country, effectively collapsing the country’s rail network.”
But Vieira said not everyone in the scrap-metal business was a criminal.
He then urged that instead of Trinidad and Tobago’s exporting its waste materials, a recycling industry should be encouraged. A recycling sector could diversify the economy, create jobs and generate revenues, he advised. Scrap-metal recycling could be a very powerful economic engine, Vieira said.
“Metal recycling can be an important cog in the green economy.
“But the myriad opportunities available will be stillborn if left to a ministry department where the focus will be on licensing, where even if there is an appetite for innovative development at the ministry, the actors there are hamstrung by red tape and bureaucracy.”
He felt a recycling industry could include not only metals but also plastics, fabrics, electronics, tires, and glass. For this, TT needs an all-of-society approach, he said.
“The licensing regime proposed under this legislation is at best pedestrian.”
Vieira urged the setting up of a special body to regulate the collection, sale, and storage of waste, and to “midwife” the sector.
“I am unenthusiastic about this legislation, certainly as cast, as it is implicitly geared towards the export of scrap metals, and is at odds with the ideals of a circular economy.
“In the event, I respectfully call on the Government to revisit the underlying policies that inform this legislation, in favor of policies that are more forward-looking and holistic.”