Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Editorial | Tackling scourge of styrofoam, plastic

Published:Saturday | October 22, 2016 | 10:00 AM

First-time government senator Matthew Samuda has reopened a long-running national conversation on whether or not to ban plastic and styrofoam containers, which are the main culprits clogging waterways, sewers, streets and gullies, as well as the landfill.

Using the route of a private member's motion, the young senator called attention to the environmental harm caused by certain plastics and styrofoam containers and proposed that a ban be slapped on these products.

If such legislation were to be enacted, Jamaica would be following in the footsteps of many other countries that have either banned plastic made from high-density polyethylene or levied taxes on businesses that use them, and, in other cases, have imposed fees for those electing to use plastics.

Take Bangladesh, a strict ban on lightweight plastic was introduced in 2002 after floods caused by littered plastic bags submerged two-thirds of the country. Jamaica, also prone to flooding and notorious for its indiscriminate disposal of waste, could learn some lessons from this example.

The local environment lobby has been consistently sounding the warning about the dangers posed by plastics, which they say is a major threat to our marine environment. It is indisputable that even when plastics are properly disposed of, they take many years to decompose and break down. To the environmentalists, Mr Samuda may well signal a new generation of environmental activism, for indeed, Jamaica has a pollution problem.

The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) has publicly indicated its support for this ban. The reason is obvious, for in this throwaway era, many of our once beautiful beaches have become dumping grounds for all manner of disposables, including food containers, cups, bottles, and boxes. Every year, the mounds of garbage cleared from our beaches are a source of embarrassment. This has become a scar on Jamaica's landscape and seascape and should trigger immediate action. After all, we are entitled to enjoy garbage-free beaches.

 

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However, the proposal to ban plastics may not be good news for some manufacturers and members of the retail and restaurant trade. They have been saying that introducing paper is more expensive. Mr Samuda had the perfect foil for that argument as he reasoned in the Senate that "the long-term cost of not removing these items from our waste stream is far greater. It impacts generations to come".

For its part, Wisynco, the island's largest manufacturer of styrofoam products, has announced that it may introduce biodegradable enzymes into its products to speed up decomposition. On a tour of their plant this week, the management assured Prime Minister Andrew Holness that they were also concerned about the environmental impact of sytrofoam.

This ban will obviously not happen overnight, but here is where education has a critical role to play. It starts with the individual, who must be convinced that using plastics is bad for the environment and who must make that decision to move to reusable cloth bags or paper bags or some other alternative.

So the plastic scourge has to be fought on many different fronts via public education, lobbying, and legislation. Approval by the Senate of Mr Samuda's motion is a small, first step.