In Jamaica, “box lunch” is a tradition and a staple of local cook shops across the island. Many Jamaicans, who work on the road or don’t have time to stop at a restaurant, get a box of “chicken with curry goat gravy” (a favorite with some!) or similar hot cooked food. Nine times out of ten, the “box” part of it is styrofoam. Although I have seen some efforts to replace the styrofoam with something more eco-friendly (the restaurant Island Grill was, I believe, the first to switch to cardboard boxes) it still seems to be everywhere.
It’s not only restaurants, though. Supermarkets continue to package fresh fruit and vegetables in styrofoam and plastic, quite unnecessarily. A few tomatoes are placed on a styrofoam plate and covered in clingfilm plastic. Why? I suppose it’s more convenient for the store, but is so wasteful and harmful to the environment. No one really knows how long it takes to break down, but some scientists say “500 years.” Others say it does not decompose at all – ever.
Here is JET’s take on our upcoming styrofoam ban. Some businesspeople are asking for an extension of the one-year deadline they had received to stop the manufacture and distribution of styrofoam. However, Government Senator Matthew Samuda is urging Cabinet members not to give in (and I agree with him!) Senator Samuda first set the “plastic ban” in motion, when he filed a Private Member’s Motion in Parliament on Earth Day 2016. We must not stop the momentum.
Do not delay the Styrofoam ban, says JET
The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is adding its voice to those calling on the Cabinet to dismiss appeals for the delay of the January 1, 2020 ban on Styrofoam. JET says that the scheduled implementation of the ban on Styrofoam is a progressive move by the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) towards improved solid waste management policy and regulation, which should be adhered to and strongly enforced. JET is also calling on the GOJ to move swiftly in ramping up its public education on the ban, to ensure that Jamaicans are prepared for the impending changes in Styrofoam availability, and are knowledgeable of the alternatives.
“Despite the ban on imported Styrofoam being implemented in January this year, it has still featured prominently in the top 10 items collected on International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Day in September,” said Suzanne Stanley, CEO of JET “Our preliminary results rank foam pieces as number 3 in the list of items collected on ICC Day 2019, and foam cups and plates come in at number 9.” She continued, “Styrofoam poses a particular challenge to solid waste management in Jamaica. It is currently in abundant supply, it is not recyclable, it is not biodegradable, and it typically breaks into small pieces once it is thrown away, making it extremely difficult to clean up when it’s carelessly discarded in our environment – this ban is long overdue.”
Jamaica’s ban on single-use plastic tackles solid waste pollution at its source – removing several types of non-biodegradable packaging from the market and the country’s waste stream. The ban was initially proposed by Senator Matthew Samuda in 2016 and was officially announced in September 2018 by Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Daryl Vaz.
In 2019 the first phase of the ban came into effect in Jamaica – plastic bags measuring less than 24″ x 24″ (both imported and locally manufactured), plastic straws (both imported and locally manufactured) and imported Styrofoam food and beverage containers were banned effective January 1. Local manufacturers of Styrofoam packaging were given an additional year to transition away from their production of the material.
JET says it has already observed several restaurant operators in the corporate area take a proactive approach to the impending ban, by replacing Styrofoam take-out lunch boxes with the alternative biodegradable options. JET is also recommending that more Jamaican restaurants and cook shops encourage the use of reusable lunch containers by their customers, which will further reduce the amount of garbage produced by their operations.
“It is critical that widescale public education on the Styrofoam ban begin immediately, to avoid the kind of public confusion and resistance that we saw with the scandal bag ban earlier this year,” said Stanley. “It should also go without saying that enforcement of these bans by the relevant authorities is also critical for compliance and public uptake and to ensure they are effective.”