Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Peter Espeut: Plastic, styrofoam and hanging

Published:Friday | May 6, 2016 | 5:00 AM

 

There are encouraging signs that we Jamaicans are maturing as a people.

National Security Minister Robert Montague must have been surprised at the public response to the kite he flew last week when, at a passing-out parade, he announced that he had taken steps to determine whether there are any "legal impediments" to the Government applying the death penalty. In times past, there would have been a chorus of support, but instead there has been a groundswell against his poor attempt at populism.

As I have consistently said in this column, over the last 20-odd years, there is no evidence that fear of the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. With one of the highest rates of police killings in the world, many might argue that Jamaica has been applying the death penalty de facto, if not de jure, quite liberally, over the last 50 years, and yet murders continue unabated, and seem to get ever more gruesome.

In any case, except for the above, I don't believe applying the death penalty falls under the purview of the minister of national security. Was Minister Montague suggesting that politicians should be able to influence the courts or the director of public prosecutions in these matters?

 

EFFECTIVE STRATEGY

 

Judging from recent events, catching criminals and deporting them, or bringing them to book, seems a much more effective strategy to reduce crime, and that falls squarely under Minister Montague's portfolio. I suggest that he raise the entry-level requirements for the Jamaica Constabulary Force, improve the quality of training policemen and women receive, and equip them with state-of-the-art detection and forensic equipment. For that, he will have the public's unequivocal support. I think the authorities will find that members of the Jamaican public are maturing, and are much less interested in the death penalty than they were a few years ago.

And then on Earth Day (April 22) last month, one of our youngest parliamentarians, government senator Matthew Samuda, announced his intention "to table a private member's motion in the Senate ... calling for the imposition of a ban on the importation of plastic bags below a 50-gallon capacity" and "a prohibition order on the importation of styrofoam containers".

Again, the growing maturity of the Jamaican public was on show as Senator Samuda's stated intention has received almost universal support - from both young and old. It is too late for Jamaica to be a world leader - or even regional leaders - in environmental matters, as the environmentally illiterate dinosaurs in our Parliament have effectively held us back. Let us see how Senator Samuda's resolution is treated by the Senate when it is debated and, if carried, how it will be given effect.

 

SEVERAL STEPS AHEAD

 

The lone voice I heard raised against the ban came from Wisynco, a Jamaican company that manufactures plastic bags and styrofoam. Maybe it is several steps ahead of me, but I would have thought that Wisynco would welcome a ban on imported plastic bags and styrofoam containers, which compete with their locally manufactured products. Does Wisynco see the banning of imports as a prelude to banning locally manufactured styrofoam containers and plastic bags also?

The case for plastic bags and styrofoam, put by Wisynco, lamented the loss of Jamaican jobs if production were banned. I am pleased at Wisynco's selfless concern for their workers! Why can't the company show resilience by switching to the manufacture of biodegradable bags and containers, thus protecting the jobs of their valuable workers?

The fact is that plastic bags and Styrofoam - once manufactured - take upwards of 500 years to biodegrade. Paper bags decompose in four weeks, and cardboard in two months. We used to sell soft drinks

in glass bottles which were repurchased, washed and reused on the production line. Nowadays, sodas are sold in throwaway plastic bottles that can take a millennium to degrade.

Firms that take the business decision to use plastic packaging should not be allowed to pass on the whole cost of the disposal of their product packaging to the public purse. The fact that the 'polluter pays principle' has not been enshrined in Jamaican law is the fault of successive governments. Senator Samuda may want to consider introducing another resolution.

The technology exists to recycle plastic bottles. At the very least, those firms that sell their products in plastic bottles should be required to operate a deposit/refund system to prevent plastic bottles entering our garbage dumps where they can fuel mega fires. But are they mature enough?

- Peter Espeut is an environmentalist.

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