LESS than a week before Jamaica introduces a ban on the importation, manufacture, distribution, and use of certain categories of plastic packaging, some vendors are still concerned about the alternatives.
But Government Senator Matthew Samuda, whose widely supported motion opened the way for the decision to introduce the ban, insists that there is really no need to fear it.
“I am sure that there will be adequate supply of alternatives, whether produced locally or imported for the local market,” Senator Samuda told the Jamaica Observer on Thursday, suggesting that the main replacements will be paper bags and reusable non-plastic bags.
He said that he is aware of the concerns, but he is also aware that efforts are being made to fill the void by producing alternative packaging locally, or importing adequate supplies of the alternatives to mitigate the scare and ensure that consumers will be able to choose between paper bags and non-plastic reusable bags.
“There is no need for the concern, the market will be able to align with the changes. I know that it will take some time for people to get used to it. But removing plastic bags from the waste stream is an important first step, and there is never a wrong time to do the right thing,” he told the Observer.
Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Daryl Vaz, in September, announced plans to impose the ban, which will affect the use of single-use plastic carrier/shopping bags, expanded polystyrene, commonly called styrofoam, and plastic drinking straws, which are often improperly discarded, causing significant harm to the environment.
“I can assure the public that there will be teeth [in the law],” Vaz said then, noting that the Government is serious about enforcing the ban.
Since then the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has intensified its campaign to get Jamaicans to reduce their reliance on single-use plastic bags by either refusing or reusing them.
The focus is on banning the importation, manufacturing and distribution of these materials, and NEPA is hoping that its campaigns will get Jamaicans to reduce their dependence on them, in the meantime.
“Since the ban was announced, everything that NEPA has done has been on plastic throughout all our public education, and we have also done work on social media,” said Public Relations Officer Ollyvia Anderson.
NEPA has insisted that individuals buying lunches refuse the scandal bags, even if they do not get an alternative food box. The agency has suggested taking cutlery to work to have meals and rejecting plastic forks. In some instances, the use of plastic bags will be allowed. However, manufacturers will have to apply to NEPA for exemptions.
The polystyrene ban applies to those that are used as food and beverage containers. Regarding drinking straws, the ban will not apply to those that are used in medical facilities like hospitals or care homes for patients.
The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) has also been supportive of the ban. Its president, Howard Mitchell, says the entity is aware that the listed materials are hazardous to health and the environment.
He said that while most Jamaicans use plastic daily, the country has to work out ways to accommodate the transition, but the PSOJ is in favour of limiting, reducing and eventually eliminating the use of plastics.
“We think we have to do it. We have even written to the Government stating that we want to be a part of the implementation team, because there is no question that plastics are bad for us and the environment,” Mitchell said recently.
Although plastic bags have become part of everyday life in Jamaica, the convenience comes at a very high cost to the environment and negatively affects human health.
This has led to several countries banning the use of plastic bags, while others enforce restricted laws against the use of these bags because of the negative effects of their usage. The use of plastic bags is considered as one of the great environmental issues humans are facing in their contemporary life.
Senator Samuda recently assured the country that there will be no unfair advantages for manufacturers and distributors under the impending ban.
He told a ‘Consumer Talk’ on the ban, hosted recently by the National Consumers’ League in association with NEPA at the Bureau of Standards, that the plastic ban will be implemented through a Ministerial Order under the Trade Act of Jamaica.
“There won’t be unfair advantages for any business group in Jamaica, whether large or small,” Senator Samuda said.
He added that under the Trade Act, plastic bags 2424 inches, plastic drinking straws, and imported expanded polystyrene will not be allowed for manufacture, distribution and importation by any Jamaican company.
“What the Ministerial Order will allow the Government to do is reinforce the ban within the business community, rather than target individuals,” he explained.
Samuda noted that breaches of the plastic ban could result in fines of up to $2 million, or imprisonment for a maximum of two years, as outlined in Sections 11 and 13 of the Trade Act. However, he indicated that no tax incentives or concessions will be administered by the Government under the ban.
In 2016, Senator Samuda tabled a motion in the Senate for the ban on a range of plastic and expanded polystyrene products. Vaz announced the ban on September 18. It is to become effective January 1, 2019.