Plastics are used in many of Belize’s key economic sectors such as tourism, construction, and agriculture. It is also considered a light weight and cheap material for production. However, its inefficient management and handling after disposal has resulted in pollution, which poses a threat not only to land and marine environment but also human health.

Global demand for plastics has led to an explosion in plastic production, particularly in single use plastic. According to Our World in Data, plastic production increased by more than 200-fold since 1950, with annual output reaching 380 million tonnes in 2015. Future plastics production is projected to double by 2035 and almost quadruple by 2050. 

The increase in plastic use in Belize has been significant. Belize population continues to grow (on average 2% per year according to SIB), and this growth coupled with new employment over the years has created an additional demand for plastic goods. The issue is further complicated by the lack of infrastructure to deal with waste mismanagement. Of the four major options for disposal of plastics: landfilling, incineration, recycling, and biodegradation, Belize has utilized the first two, landfilling and incineration. The challenge is that landfilling is unsustainable and often requires large land space while incineration is considered unsafe, unhealthy with pollutants being released into the atmosphere. 

According to a Data Plastic pollution report, Belize’s daily plastic waste generation per person was 0.17 kilograms in 2010, which is about seventeen times higher than India’s per capita waste generation. This suggests that, for that year, each person in Belize produced more plastic waste than each person in India.  In 2017, the Department of the Environment (DOE) found that over three years, Belize imported over two hundred million pieces of single-use plastic bags and fifty-two million pieces of Styrofoam and plastic food containers every year, for each year (excluding local manufacturers who produce an estimated thirty-five million single-use plastic bags and five million pieces of Styrofoam).The numbers suggest that each Belizean uses an average of eleven single use plastic bags and three pieces of Styrofoam per week over a year.

The environmental and health impacts are only recently being considered by the government and private sector. As alternatives are being developed, the Government of Belize introduced legislation phasing out single-use plastics and Styrofoam in Belize, starting 2020.  However, the timeline has been pushed back due to the impacts of COVID-19. 

Oceana is working to ensure that the Government of Belize meets its commitment to ban single use plastic and polystyrene products in Belize’s food sector, beginning with mandating that the sale and possession of the items on prohibited items list takes effect by December 2021.