Editorial | Don’t let lapse in plastic bag policy fester » EntornoInteligente

Editorial | Don’t let lapse in plastic bag policy fester

Entornointeligente.com / JAMAICAN GOVERNMENTS are notorious for declaring important policies and enacting crucial legislation which work for a while, before they drift into a state of suspended animation. In other words, there is a deficit in follow-through and enforcement.

This, we hope, will not become the fate of the ban of single-use plastics, an important policy initiative whose third phase should now be kicking into high gear. But based on the reporting of this newspaper, the policy appears to be under assault and being chipped away.

As is the case with most countries of the world, Jamaica is being overwhelmed by plastics. Around 120,000 tonnes of the stuff, or 15 per cent of the solid waste collected each year, reach the island’s landfills. But a significant amount of plastics are disposed of on Jamaica’s streets, and in its drains and gullies.

That is not merely an eyesore. It is an environmental problem. Much of the disused bags and other forms of plastic packaging enter our seas, contributing to the pollution of the world’s oceans. Moreover, by clogging drains and gullies, plastic waste is also a factor in floods during rain, such as when Tropical Storm Elsa passed near the island on Sunday.

BAN BROADLY WELCOMED It was on many fronts, therefore, that the first phase of the Government’s initial drive, two and half years ago, to limit use of plastic packaging, starting with a ban of bags 24 inches by 24 inches and smaller, was broadly welcomed. A year later, a ban was placed on plastic drinking straws and on the use of polystyrene foam containers in certain circumstances.

That was followed this year with a ban on drinking straws made wholly or partially from polyethylene or polypropylene, whether for single use or as part of the packaging for drinks boxes and pouches. While the latest regulations officially came into force in January, manufacturers, importers and retailers had up to the end of June to become fully compliant.

However, last week Gleaner reporters observed single-use plastic bags, banned since 2019, being openly sold by street vendors in downtown Kingston. People can be fined up to J$2 million for breaching the plastic bag rules.

The sellers we highlighted were informal vendors, operating on the streets, rather than major commercial enterprises. But those vendors received their stocks from somewhere. Presumably, they purchased them. If indeed the ban on the domestic manufacture of these bags was implemented and enforced, then those being sold downtown, and elsewhere, were imported – seemingly in significant quantities.

LAPSE SHOULD NOT HAPPEN The re-emergence of single-use plastic bags, two and half years after their ban, has begun just about the time when things usually start to lapse in Jamaica – when the authorities begin to forget the reasons for the policy and appear not to have the energy for enforcement. That should not be allowed to happen.

There is no clear data as yet on the effect of the ban on plastic shopping bags or the other restricted plastic packaging. However, the anecdotal evidence suggests that it has been of value. Shoppers with reusable, biodegradable bags and cardboard boxes at stores and supermarkets are now common sights. Fewer plastic bags are in the drains. Fewer, too, are collected during clean-up campaigns.

Which does not mean that there is not still plenty of plastic waste about. There is. Should the authorities fail to clamp down on the illegal importation and sale of the bags, the gains of the past two and half years will be reversed. And like too many other things in Jamaica, we will know, or have only a vague memory, that it is against the law to import and use these plastic bags. Policymakers, perhaps, will not remember why. And in the absence of enforcement, people will go their merry way.

The law, then, may be neither in force nor repealed, neither alive nor dead. Like Schrodinger’s cat, perhaps.

LINK ORIGINAL: Jamaica Gleaner

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