Opportunities in the plastics ban

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

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When plastic use first took hold here on a large scale in the 1960s, most Jamaicans alive today weren't born yet.

It may seem strange to people now in their 60s and older, but most Jamaicans have never known of a time without the black scandal bag for example, or for that matter, the plastic soda bottle.

All of which partly explains why Cabinet Minister Mr Daryl Vaz has identified cultural change as critical to successful implementation of the ban on certain forms of plastic which formally took effect yesterday, the first day of 2019.

Said Mr Vaz on New Year's Eve: “It is a culture change. It is going to take some time, but we have got to start the process, and that's what we will be doing tomorrow morning (yesterday) — so yes, there will be transitional problems, there will be dislocation, but as a Government we are going to ensure that it's minimised and it's for as short a time as possible…”

We welcome the obvious softening of the Government's tone in relation to the ban on the importation, manufacturing, and distribution of single-use plastic carrier/shopping bags (also referred to as scandal bags); expanded polystyrene foam, commonly referred to as styrofoam; and plastic drinking straws.

For as we have pointed out in this space, drastic cultural change, as is being undertaken here, is never easy.

As we understand Mr Vaz to be saying, the new plastic policy will have a “transition” phase and the aim is to have a national consensus and partnership, instead of a “big stick” approach.

We are told that ministerial orders have been gazetted under the Trade Act and the Natural Resources and Conservation Authority Act, to provide a regulatory framework for the ban. Breaches will attract a fine of $2 million and $50 million under both acts, respectively, and each also carries an imprisonment term of two years.

We expect that in line with the “transition” approach, penalties will be stayed for a while yet.

As has been repeatedly pointed out, entrepreneurs are moving in to fill the gap to be left by plastic bags and containers.

Mr Vaz tells us that the domestic market has responded positively to opportunities presented by the plastic policy.

“There is a lot of alternative packaging that is currently here… (though) it will take some time for the companies that are now distributing these and manufacturing these to be able to get them to the wider public,” he said.

We expect that organic-based materials such as cloth, bamboo and thatch will provide exciting opportunities as local manufacturers, large and small, move to fill the gap left by inorganic, environmentally unfriendly plastic.

There are also suggestions as to the best use of excess plastic during the transition phase. Note the innovative approach of Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Festival Queen for Manchester, Miss Crystal Scale. She is promoting the idea of using scandal bags to make sleeping mats for homeless people and also old tyres to make furniture — all part of a project to “transform trash to treasures”.

It's clear that for those with an entrepreneurial bent and a creative, innovative spirit the plastic ban could make 2019 the year of opportunity.

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