NEPA going after plastic bag users

By Alphea Saunders
Observer senior reporter

Monday, March 18, 2019

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Almost three months after the Government implemented the ban on specific categories of single-use plastic bags, some people are still using the outlawed items, but the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is warning that the time for allowances has expired.

Chief executive officer of NEPA Peter Knight emphasises that people and entities which continue to use the banned bags are in breach of the Trade Act and the Natural Resources and Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act.

“If you see plastic bags being openly displayed by vendors it is a breach, and so they are liable to prosecution because we have come out of the stage of overlooking the breaches. We are now into enforcement,” he stated in a Jamaica Observer interview.

In December, Environment Minister Daryl Vaz said businesses that had small amounts of plastic bags in stock were allowed to continue to use these up to February, when their alternative supplies were expected to arrive.

The ban prohibits the importation, manufacture and distribution of all single-use plastic carrier bags of 24 inches by 24 inches and below. This includes bags commonly called scandal bags, mainly used in the retail and wholesale sectors.

The ban also extends to plastic drinking straws and expanded polystyrene foam, commonly referred to as Styrofoam™.

Knight says NEPA will have to determine the source of the plastic bags which are still in use by some vendors and retailers. “The vendors I don't think are importers of plastic bags, so is there an illegal operation going on where bags are getting to vendors, and that we will have to investigate,” he stated.

The CEO explains that the agency has developed the means, in collaboration with the Compliance Regulatory Authority, to do site visits, but that emphasis has been on the larger players.

Despite the completion of an islandwide sensitisation programme there are still challenges in some areas, such as Lucea, in Hanover, he adds.

“They don't understand that it is a different world, so there is widespread use down there. We are going to be visiting those large establishments and persons are going to be prosecuted,” he warned.

The fines for breaches are $50,000 under the NRCA Act, and $2 million under the Trade Act.

“When we identify breaches we are going to do joint prosecution, so it would be $2 million plus $50,000,” he pointed out, adding, “We want the importers and distributors to be warned.”

Knight noted that, while Styrofoam can be used until January next year, importers are advised to start taking stock of imports by as soon as September to avoid bringing in an oversupply into the island. He said local producers should be mindful of the deadline as well.

At the same time, he said the Jamaica Customs Agency had done an “extraordinarily good job” of keeping tabs on imports. “I doubt if there are any supplies that came through the ports since the ban was implemented. A number of persons (who imported) have lost money,” he said.

Generally, he said Jamaicans had been changing their habits since the ban started. “If you look around, there has been a dramatic reduction in the use of single-use plastic bags…you will note also a major behaviour change taking place now that persons are now walking with their shopping bags.”

A trek into some major commercial areas such as downtown Kingston reveals that while many vendors have ceased using the plastic bags, others are still trying to “help customers out” by providing small black plastic bags.

One vendor commented: “Da plastic ting deh, some people come wid dem bag enuh, but a nuh everybody, some people no really work into di ting yet, so me haffi help out di customer dem more time.”

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