Tue | Oct 16, 2018

In dark on plastic ban - Lead agency says legislation still being drafted; questions on penalties 'premature'

Published:Tuesday | September 18, 2018 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/ Gleaner Writer
Senator Matthew Samuda holds a plastic bag and shows some plastic items, while minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Daryl Vaz, announces the planned ban on single-use plastic products to take effect January 1, 2019, at Jamaica House yesterday.

Una-May Gordon, director of the climate change division in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, has dismissed as "premature" questions about the range of penalties/sanctions for persons or institutions that run afoul of the pending ban on the use, importation, manufacture, and distribution of some single-use plastic products, as well as food and drink containers made from Styrofoam.

"The law nuh develop yet. The legislation is being drafted, so that's why you have the transition period because the legislation nuh develop yet," she declared to The Gleaner yesterday.

Her pronouncement followed yesterday's declaration by minister without portfolio in the ministry, Daryl Vaz, that a comprehensive ban on the importation, use, manufacture and distribution of single-use plastic and Styrofoam items would take effect on January 1, 2019.

On the question of when the sanctions would be known, Gordon, who was at the press conference at Jamaica House, made it clear that she, like the rest of the public, was still in the dark.

The director told The Gleaner: "You can't talk about penalty and sanction yet and you don't have legislation yet. We just into drafting now. You can't answer that question, now because that question is very premature. Trust me on that, premature. The ban is coming, so people can start to retool, prepare themselves and see how they going to get resources; the consultation is ongoing."

She continued: "So we will get the regulations to pass so that the ban can take effect with the monitoring and the evaluation and everything in place in January. But that's a premature question, so if a man throws suppen over a gully now, there is no regulation."

 

LOOPHOLE ON MEDICAL GROUNDS

 

At the press conference held at the Banquet Hall at Jamaica House, Vaz conceded that the decision to implement the ban was informed, in part, by $150 million worth of subsidies, which had failed to achieve the desired objective.

"Over the past three years, RPJ (Recycling Partners of Jamaica) has collected well over 1.4 million pounds of plastic waste for export. Over that same period, the Government has provided support to RPJ to the tune of over J$150 million. Despite RPJ's efforts, however, the scope and scale of plastic pollution in the country is still significant," he stated.

Meanwhile, the Government has provided a loophole, on medical grounds, for persons who may need to use plastic straws.

Vaz explained: "For the medical sector, as well as persons with disabilities, drinking straws made from alternative materials such as paper or bamboo are not always suitable."

The ban will also not apply to single-use plastic bags used to maintain public health or food safety standards, such as in the packaging of raw meats, flour, sugar, rice and baked goods such as bread.

 

ITEMS TO BE BANNED

 

 Among the items that will banned when the law on single-use plastic items and Styrofoam food containers takes effect on Tuesday, January, 2019 are:

- Plastic cups used to serve drinks in bars, restaurants and hotels

- Plastic plates, knives, forks and spoons used by restaurants, canteens and cook shops

- Plastic straws

- Plastic bottles in which water and beverages are sold

- The range of Styrofoam containers used to serve a range of small, medium and large meals.

- Styrofoam cups (referred to as 'hot' cups because of their suitability for serving soup, coffee, tea and other hot beverages)

- Single-use carrier bags at the size 24 inches by 24 inches and smaller, including the very popular so-called 'scandal' and 'T-shirt' types.

 The ban will also make it illegal to import or manufacture drinking straws. However, the ban on importation of plastic straws attached to juice boxes will come into effect two years later, January 1, 2021.

 On Tuesday, January 1, 2019, the ban will also apply to the importation of expanded polystyrene foam, more popularly known as 'Styrofoam' for use as finished goods in the food and beverage industry, such as food and beverage containers.

 The ban on local manufacture and distribution of polystyrene foam for use as finished goods in the food and beverage industry will come into effect a year later - January 1, 2020.

 The use of 'Styrofoam' to package food items such as raw meat will be exempt. Manufacturers of products which use such packaging must apply to NEPA for "limited" exemptions, minister Vaz advised.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com