I don’t know how many times I have written, blogged and spoken about the need for ACTION on plastics. Several Caribbean countries have now announced measures to curb this curse. This morning – in the aftermath of the International Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday, September 15, which again saw a huge level of participation – there was the long-awaited announcement by Minister Without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister Daryl Vaz regarding a ban on plastic bags, plastic straws and styrofoam containers. Even more significantly perhaps, a plan is taking shape to deal with the matter of plastic bottles, as noted below.
Congratulations to all concerned: Not only the Prime Minister, Minister Vaz and Senator Matthew Samuda (who first raised the issue in Parliament and has been pursuing it ever since) but all those who have been advocating, reporting and questioning – in particular, JET, who have been relentless. The local media, too, have played their part, as well as a number of NGOs. Here is JET’s response to the announcement:
September 17, 2018
JET Reacts to Government Announcement on Plastics
The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) welcomes this morning’s announcement by Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, the Hon. Daryl Vaz, at a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister regarding the Government of Jamaica’s (GOJ’s) new strategy to address the country’s widespread problem of plastic pollution.
The strategies outlined were:
1. Plastic bags with dimensions measuring less than 24″ x 24″ (both imported and locally manufactured) are to be banned effective January 1, 2019. Exemptions will be granted for bags used to maintain public health and food safety standards, e.g. raw meat, bread.
2. Plastic straws (both imported and locally manufactured) are to be banned effective January 1, 2019. Special accommodations will be made for people who require plastic straws due to a physical disability. Plastic straws attached to beverages (boxes/tetra packs and pouches) will be banned effective January 1, 2021.
3. Imported Styrofoam food and beverage containers are to be banned effective January 1, 2019; locally manufactured Styrofoam food and beverage containers are to be banned effective January 1, 2020. Exemptions will be granted for Styrofoam packaging used to maintain public health and food safety standards, e.g. raw meat.
This long-awaited announcement comes after decades of advocacy by JET to have Jamaica’s plastic pollution addressed. The new strategies tackle plastic pollution at their source – removing several types of non-biodegradable packaging from the market and the country’s waste stream. The bold move by the GOJ is in line with global trends to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic packaging and represents a positive shift in environmental policy by the GOJ.
JET looks forward to further details on how the bans on plastic packaging will be implemented and enforced at the nation’s ports and in the wider economy. Public education, and the identification of, and improved access to, suitable alternatives to plastic packaging will also be critical, as Jamaica prepares for the bans over the next few months. JET understands that the agencies to lead the implementation of the new plastic strategy are the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), and the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA).
JET shares the concerns expressed by several stakeholders about the impact the ban on plastic grocery bags (commonly referred to as scandal bags/ t-shirt bags/ lada bags) will have on the containerization of garbage by households. These types of plastic bags have been well-established as “free” garbage bags and are used by many Jamaicans for this purpose. JET strongly recommends that the GOJ take immediate action to address this concern by making suitable alternatives available and accessible to all.
JET also remains concerned about PET plastic beverage bottles, which constitute about 15% of the island’s waste stream, especially as recycling programmes are not well established. We are, however, encouraged by Minister Vaz’s statement that an official announcement on a Deposit Refund Scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles will be forthcoming by the end of October 2018. JET has taken part in a number of discussions between the GOJ, manufacturers and the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) environmental/economic policy researchers on the proposed plastic bottle DRS, which we consider to be at an advanced stage. If appropriately designed, the DRS will also go a long way in tackling Jamaica’s plastic pollution crisis.
JET will continue to follow the process towards the implementation and enforcement of the plastic packaging bans and inform the public on details as they arise.