Mon | Nov 23, 2020

Justine Collins | A refresher on the plastic ban and considerations for business

Published:Wednesday | June 5, 2019 | 12:00 AM

On January 1, 2019, Jamaica joined Caribbean neighbours Antigua & Barbuda and Aruba in implementing a plastic ban with the overall intent of environmental sustainability as well as a commitment to reducing our plastic footprint and the concomitant preservation of our flora, fauna and marine life.

The Government of Jamaica instituted a ban on the use of single-use plastic bags, styrofoam containers and plastic drinking straws; and the orders governing it – The Natural Resources Conservation Authority (Plastic Packaging Materials Prohibition) Order 2018; and the Trade (Plastic Packaging Materials Prohibition) Order 2018 – collectively prevent any person from importing, distributing, manufacturing or using single-use plastic in commercial quantities.

The orders cover “single-use plastic bags; packaging made wholly or in part of expanded polystyrene foam (commonly known by a trademarked name ‘styrofoam’); or drinking straws made wholly or in part of polyethylene, manufactured for single use”.

They restrict the manufacture, use, importation or distribution of any single-use plastic bag, which is defined as “any bag made wholly or in part of polyethylene or polypropylene and of the applicable dimensions”. Polyethylene and polypropylene are commonly used plastics, which are present in plastic drinking straws and ‘scandal bags’.

Businesses cannot manufacture, use, distribute or import plastic bags which are smaller than the dimensions 24” x 24” and 0.03 mm in thickness before January 1, 2021. Thereafter, the dimensions under the prohibition adjust to 24” x 24” and 0.06 mm in thickness.

Businesses are permitted to use, but not import, styrofoam containers for food or beverage until January 1, 2020. Cookshops and fast-food restaurants should prepare to change their food packaging material during this year to accommodate the new change.

Similarly, businesses may import or distribute plastic drinking straws which are attached to or form part of the packaging of juice boxes or drink pouches until January 1, 2021. Beverage businesses therefore need to consider their operations and importation of plastic straws before that date.

Penalty for non-compliance

Businesses face criminal penalties for failure to comply with the ban. Persons who contravene the trade order may be fined up to $2 million or sentenced to prison for up to two years in a Parish Court, while the penalty for breaching the NRCA Order is a fine of up to $50,000 or imprisonment of up to two years.

The National Environment & Planning Agency, NEPA, has stated that persons may apply for an exemption if their use falls within one of the following categories:

• Single-use plastic shopping bags made of polyethylene or polypropylene with dimensions at or less than 24” X 24” and of thickness greater than 0.03 mm;

• Importation and manufacture of polystyrene foam for the packaging of food items such as raw meats and vegetables; and

• Importation and/or manufacture of plastic straws for medical and or for other special-needs purposes.

The application process, which must include specifications of the single-use plastic, usually takes 10 business days, according to NEPA, except in instances where the application is referred for comments from an external ministry, department or agency.

The plastic ban does not apply to single use plastics are imported before January 1, 2019. If a business has already imported the prohibited items before the plastic ban came into effect, the business can distribute it until it has been depleted. Businesses can be assured that the stock of plastic straws and styrofoam containers currently in their warehouses can be used until depleted.

The ban also does not apply to plastic bags used to maintain public health and food safety, such as packaging used by wholesalers and retailers to distribute raw meat, eggs, flour, sugar, rice or baked goods; plastic bags used to package personal effects, and contained in the luggage of a person travelling into or out of Jamaica; drinking straws manufactured for use by, or used by, persons with disabilities; nor single-use plastics imported or distributed by the ministry responsible for health for use in the practice of medicine or dentistry, in veterinary practice, or in any other medical field in respect of which the ministry responsible for health imports or distributes single-use plastics.

How to prepare

Here are some ideas to help you to prepare your business and customers for the ban.

Sell a branded and reusable shopping bag. These can be made of cloth, paper, bagasse, corn starch or any other non-plastic material. There are several businesses within Jamaica which provide these bags and you can brand your logos and names on these for marketing purposes.

Encourage your customers to reuse their scandal bags. Remember that the plastic ban applies to distribution of plastic bags in commercial quantities, so there is nothing which precludes customers from bringing their own plastic bags to the supermarket, subject to security and sanitary considerations.

Be careful when using bags which are labelled as degradable, biodegradable, oxo-degradable, photodegradable or compostable. The mere labelling of a bag as such does not mean that the orders are not applicable. The bag must not be made wholly or in part of plastic – either polyethylene or polypropylene – which means it doesn’t matter if it is a small percentage of plastic.

Consider the use of plastic bags in your business and implementing possible alternatives to comply with the plastic ban. Businesses have begun to switch to paper bags or boxes; however, alternatives can be made of cloth, cotton, canvas, basket, bagasse, corn starch or any other non-plastic material.

Businesses also need to consider whether they will be bearing the cost of the alternatives bags or passing these on to the customer. How will this affect the business’ pricing?

Businesses need to replace plastic drinking straws with alternatives. This can be a paper or bagasse alternative, or drinkable lids for cups.

They will need to consider replacing styrofoam containers before 2020 with a suitable alternative, such as bagasse, corn starch or any other non-plastic material.

And consider the importation of juice boxes with attached plastic straws and viable alternatives.

Ultimately, businesses may have to consider their overall plastic footprint, as this represents the first step by Jamaica to a general reduction in plastic usage.

Justine A. Collins is an attorney-at-law at Hart Muirhead Fatta. jacollins@hmf.com.jm