Widespread retailer compliance with plastics, polystyrene ban

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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AS local retailers prepare to restock their inventories in compliance with the Government's ban on single-use plastic bags and straws, and polystyrene (styrofoam), several enterprises have begun in earnest to offer their customers alternatives including cardboard boxes, paper bags, and reusable shopping bags made from canvas, cotton, nylon and other types of materials.

Some, like Payless Shoes Source, are using paper bags, while several others, particulalrly supermarkets, are selling reusable bags or offering customers the option of cardboard boxes.

The ban, which took effect on January 1, relates to plastic bags of dimensions 24” x 24” and disposable plastic straws. The importation of polystyrene food and beverage containers has also been banned, with local manufacture of similar products embargoed until 2021.

Manager of Golden Grocery Limited, Carolyn Yapp tells JIS News that her establishment is making the necessary adjustments to provide shoppers with several packaging alternatives.

“We have the reusable fabric bags for sale at cost. Whatever we buy them for, we sell at the same price… we are not making anything on them. We have given some away for Christmas and the remainder will be for sale. We just want the customers to have it and to be encouraged to fold them up and bring them in their handbags and pockets when they come back,” she says.

She adds that the establishment also provides cardboard boxes and paper bags, but points out that it hopes to eventually eliminate the use of paper bags, which she says are up to four times as expensive to manufacture as plastic bags.

“Change is difficult. But I am hoping they will eventually get used to using reusable bags, because we don't want to be using paper bags indefinitely. We are hoping that people will be weaned off non-reusables eventually,” she says.

While acknowledging that it will take some effort, Yapp contends that “other countries have done it and are doing it… [so] we will manage; we are Jamaicans… we are adaptable”.

Food outlets have also been getting into shape.

The management of Restaurants Associates Limited, operator of popular fast food franchises Burger King, Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen and Little Caesars Pizza, is retooling operations in accordance with the new regulations.

Purchasing Manager Rohan McNamee, tells JIS News the company will be replacing the packaging inventory across their restaurants with biodegradable alternatives.

“The company has invested in a machine that manufactures bags. We plan to manufacture the paper bags in-house for our own use as well as, possibly, for distribution. We are far advanced in plans to install the machine at our warehouse...to incorporate the production of bags for all the brands. We will have the capacity to produce excess for other users,” he says.

This undertaking is slated to come on stream in within four months. In the interim, he says, they will outsource the bags.

Additionally, McNamee says the company intends to phase out the use of plastic spoons, forks, cups and straws, and replace them with biodegradable alternatives.

“We are doing our due diligence in investigating the composition to ensure the products are right, because we realise there are products that [manufacturers claim] are made from certain materials… but they may not be fit for use in terms of the food safety requirements,” he points out.

McNamee, who advises that the company is still conducting extensive research on those, indicates that the management expects that “by the end of 2020, we should have an expanded list of products replacing plastic with paper” in order to be “fully compliant with the Government's policy”.

McNamee describes the ban as “an excellent idea and a welcome move by the Government to protect the environment”, and argues that although it is not expected to be an overnight culture shift, it is nonetheless “a step in the right direction”.

Also in support of the ban is Restaurants of Jamaica, which operates the KFC and Pizza Hut franchises.

“This is a great time for Jamaica, and it is encouraging as a business owner to see measures being taken that look at the long-term [benefits] for our country. We are in full support and will continue to support initiatives which protect our environment,” Managing Director Mark Myers states in a press release.

Clothing retailers are also in the process of replacing their inventory of plastic bags with paper and reusable bags. Among them is Maxie Department Store.

“We have started to make orders to increase the production of the existing (reusable) bags we had, as well as getting different sizes — so orders are still out there. We still have some plastic bags in stock and as soon as [they are] finished, we will no longer use them,” says director Marlene Williams.

Williams encourages the public to support the initiative by getting into the habit of travelling with reusable bags.

Stakeholder sensitisation engagements on the policy have included meetings with several affected sector groupings.

They include the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and National Consumers League of Jamaica; as well as individual manufacturers, importers and distributors, and service clubs.


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