Searching for the ‘sweet spot’
Government seeking right price to entice Jamaicans to recycle plastic bottles
Nickoy Medley (left) and Leonardo Tingling weigh recycled plastic bottles during the launch of the programme in Meadows of Irwin in February.

If there is any instance where the figures really do speak for themselves, this is it. An estimated 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow into oceans every year and experts warn this may triple by 2040.

In Jamaica, plastic is approximately 15 per cent of the country’s waste stream with the vast majority being polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles.

Against that background, the Government is looking to ramp up measures to entice Jamaicans to join the campaign to recycle bottles, and minister with responsibility for the environment Matthew Samuda says this is a priority.

“Anything that makes up double digits of your waste stream is indeed a problem and it is something for deep consideration and requires policy direction to deal with. The issue with plastic is that it is non-biodegradable, but it is light, it is bulky, it is difficult to collect in many spaces so it creates a different issue. It is, however, recyclable and that is important to note about PET bottles because not all plastic is recyclable,” Samuda told the Jamaica Observer.

“We have been very clear that this is a problem. It is clear to the public, it is clear to all stakeholders that something has to be done,” added Samuda.

He told the Observer that COVID-19 stalled some of the initiatives which the Government had planned to implement to deal with the PET bottles pollution problem, but this is now back on the front burner.

Heading to the recycling depot on Lyndhurst Road in St Andrew, this rider shows how Jamaicans ought to sort, package, and recycle plastic bottles. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

Samuda said the model that the Government is pursuing is a major expansion and improvement of the deposit refund scheme (DRS) now in place.

“It is the Government’s intention to introduce a refund scheme that attaches a value to the PET bottles. That way we believe that pickers, waste scavengers, and regular citizens will be willing to collect and drop off these bottles at particular points,” said Samuda as he argued that while the DRS which is now in place is growing, it needs to be expanded.

“The plastic bottle manufacturing sector, as a subset of the JMEA (Jamaica Manufacturers & Exporters Association) has looked at instituting a DRS. They have partnered with an initiative, which started with the Government and private sector partnering.

“The plastic bottles manufacturers put millions of dollars into that mechanism to allow them to help the buy-back plastic by weight, but the big discussion is, what is the value of the bottle?

According to Samuda, while the Government is not trying to add to inflation, it is aware that the right price to incentivise people sufficiently to say, ‘I will separate the PET bottles from my waste, store it separately and drop off at the designated locations,’ is key.

“The Government will add a value to plastic bottles that will incentivise Jamaicans to separate plastic bottles from their waste and encourage them to drop off at collection points,” he said.

“The glass bottle does show you the way. It shows you that once value is attached to something people will not discard it as flippantly as they do plastic bottles now. The key right now, to my mind, is finding that sweet spot, building the right legislative arrangement, and building logistics capacity to collect and feed into existing recycling capacity which currently exceeds the country’s collection capacity,” said Samuda.

He argued that the scheme which is now in place for the recycling of plastic bottles is inadequate, and woefully so.

“We will invest what is needed and we will work with the private sector to ensure that they also invest because there is an issue of sustainability for their businesses,” Samuda said.

“This will be building a parallel waste management system different from how the National Solid Waste Management Authority functions, different from how commercial waste is treated and different from all other waste,” he declared.

“Building out such a system is not a simple thing, but we have seen how it has been done in other countries. It is not a one size fits all. Everybody has different sweet spots in terms of prices. We have to choose a price that is valuable enough to the consumer for them to spend the time to separate, store and drop off, but does not deter consumption because we are not trying to damage people’s business,” added Samuda.

BY ARTHUR HALL Editor-at-large halla@jamaicaobserver.com

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