Recycling rush needed
Manufacturers could face shortage of virgin plastic as UN agency looks to impose tough sanctions
Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Matthew Samuda (centre), helps JN Group ambassador and recording artiste Agent Sasco (left), and Saniah Spencer, JN Group marketing executive, to bag garbage on Sirgani Beach in east Kingston on Saturday.

Matthew Samuda is warning that Jamaica will have to become more committed to the recycling of plastic or face possible drastic consequences.

Like many other industries, the plastic industry suffered supply-side bottlenecks when plants were closed early in the novel coronavirus pandemic, and now as economies rebound, demand for all products, including plastic, is increasing.

But the way humans use and dispose of plastic is becoming a major international issue, and in March the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) passed a resolution dubbed ‘End Plastic Pollution: Towards a legally binding instrument’.

This established an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee that will develop the content of the new plastic pollution treaty with the aim of completing its work by the end of 2024.

For Samuda, the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, this is the clearest signal yet that Jamaica has to move quickly to address the plastic pollution issue.

“At its core there are two main points of the resolution that are well known, governments and countries could be penalised for not taking action on how they manage plastic waste. What those sanctions will look like remains to be seen… but there are considerations for curtailing access to virgin plastic for production for countries which don’t meet recycling standards.

“This means, if we do not get this right in the next three to five years, it could affect our manufacturers getting access to the raw material used to make several packages,” Samuda explained.

“It is early days in the negotiation, but it is certainly possible and moving to likely, but I would put it at possible at this stage,” Samuda told the Jamaica Observer during a recent interview.

According to Samuda, it is estimated that between 12 and 18 per cent of virgin plastic production is now being recycled in Jamaica.

“That figure is way too small and we know we have a long way to go,” declared Samuda.

He said the Government will engage with the private sector over the next three to six months to explain the implications of the UNEA resolution.

“Plastic revolutionised food packaging because it is cheap, light, and safe, for the most part. But because it is so cheap, we have used it in ways that we shouldn’t and we have used it in ways that don’t end with the separation and collection of that waste,” said Samuda.

“We have been relying mainly on virgin plastic, so the intention is very clear…we are not saying all plastic is the devil and all plastic is evil, because that is not the case. The issue is how we consume plastic. The issue is more consumption than production.

“We are building the societal capacity urgently to understand why they need to separate and store, drop off at collection points. We have to build the supporting infrastructure to ensure that it is recycled and re-enters our market, not as virgin plastic but as recycled plastic,” added Samuda.

— Arthur Hall

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