Single-use plastic ban a good start

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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The Government deserves commendation for announcing a ban on single-use plastic as the decision is in keeping with global trends which will likely be further developed at the meeting of G7 Environment, Energy and Oceans Ministers that opens today in Canada.

Mr Daryl Vaz, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, who, in his presentation to the sectoral debate in Parliament in May, had signalled the Administration's intention on the issue of single-use plastic, is representing Jamaica at the meeting.

His participation will no doubt give him an opportunity to network as well as share ideas and best practices that can redound to Jamaica's benefit as that meeting will no doubt be attended by representatives from other jurisdictions that are further along this path of eliminating single-use plastics.

One area that we hope Minister Vaz will give focus is that of public education, especially as it relates to how we provide alternatives to plastic packaging.

On Monday when Minister Vaz announced the measure, scheduled to take effect next January 1, 2019, he did encourage consumers “to utilise reusable carrier bags, particularly those produced by local enterprises”. He also urged the trade to manufacture or distribute paper-based and other environmentally friendly alternatives for the domestic market.

That is a good start, but there is a lot more that will need to be done to reverse a well-established culture, particularly of plastic bag usage.

Tied to that, of course, will be the matter of sanctions for breaches of the policy and how effective implementation will avoid strangling businesses that survive on plastic before they are able to complete full conversion to more environmentally friendly forms of packaging.

Minister Vaz, we note, had announced that the Government would explore, with the Development Bank of Jamaica and the Ex-Im Bank, possible mechanisms to assist companies in reconfiguring and/or retooling their equipment and facilities for material substitution, using “design for environment” methods to enhance their sustainability and profitability.

If that can be arranged, we suspect it will provide huge incentive for manufacturers to make the transition and, we hope, meet acceptable standards.

We cannot emphasise enough the damage that waste, particularly plastic, is having on our environment. Earlier this year we reported that Jamaicans generate about 2,700 tons of waste every day. About 30 per cent of that is inorganic, meaning it cannot be broken down easily, and 46 per cent of all inorganic waste is plastic.

Experts tell us that Jamaica produces or generates 500 million pounds of plastic annually. Approximately 10 per cent of that is recycled. When one considers that it takes plastic anywhere between 500 and 1,000 years to break down it becomes extremely clear that the island's dumps are not reasonable solid waste solutions for this material.

We expect that there will be a lot of hue and cry about the effect that the ban on single-use plastic will have on some sectors, particularly the restaurant industry, large and small. While we empathise with the trade, we all must recognise the danger that plastic poses to our country and indeed the global environment.

Anyone who does not share that view need only reflect on French President Emmanuel Macron's caution to the US Congress earlier this year: “There is no planet B.”

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