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Jamaica closer to banning plastic bag, styrofoam

Published:Saturday | October 8, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson

Jamaica is a step closer to banning plastic bags and styrofoam following the Senate's approval of a private member's motion that has raised some concerns from the Opposition, which said it supported the "spirit" of the proposal.

Government Senator Matthew Samuda found a receptive Senate yesterday when he opened the debate on his motion, which called for State action to protect the environment from non-biodegradable solid waste.

"It is not beyond Jamaicans to use reusable bags when we go to the supermarket or wholesale. It is not beyond us to ensure that when we use styrofoam, it is biodegradable, or to consider other options by way of cardboard material. I am not proposing an instant ban," he said, pointing to alternatives such as paper bags from recycled cardboard multi-use sturdy bags.

"The argument against most of the alternatives is usually based in cost, but I posit today that the long-term cost of not removing these items from our waste stream is far greater. It impacts generations today and generations to come."

It's estimated that it takes up to 500 years for styrofoam to biodegrade, and about 50 per cent of non-biodegradable waste in Jamaica is made up of styrofoam and plastic bags.


Blocked drains


Their contribution to blocked drains provoking flood across the country and, most recently, along the Marcus Garvey Drive did not escape the Senate.

GraceKenndy Group Chief Executive Officer Senator Don Wehby, speaking from his government bench, said the motion demonstrated the urgency needed to address Jamaica's waste-management issues. He proposed that an incentive-based system be put in place to encourage usage of eco-friendly bags.

Meanwhile, most of the Opposition senators who spoke said they supported the 'spirit' of the motion, but raised concerns about whether adequate consultations, among other things were done.

Mark Golding, leader of opposition business, said he could not support the motion based on its prescriptive nature.

"I'm very wary of any kind of motion brought to the Senate that tends to be prescriptive on the response to what the problem is. The ramifications of a particular course of action need to be fully ventilated and considered. This thing warrants some serious thought and consideration [and] consultation,"

Government members pushed ahead with passing the motion, rejecting a proposal from Opposition member Lambert Brown for the motion to be put before a joint select committee of the Senate.

Samuda said the motion is go to a multi-stakeholder committee to be set up under the environment portfolio headed by Daryl Vaz in the economic and growth ministry in the Office of the Prime Minister.

That committee's work will inform whether the minister issues any orders in line with recommendations or take legislation to the Parliament to join Guyana as the other Caribbean Community country to outlaw styrofoam.

No timeline was given for the committee's work.