Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Gleaner Editors' Forum | The ban on plastic was bound to happen - NEPA

Published:Thursday | December 27, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis/Gleaner Writer
Peter Knight, chief executive officer of the National Environment and Planning Agency.

The ban on plastic was inevitable, said chief executive officer of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) Peter Knight.

Speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week, Knight pointed to the European Union as one example where bold steps were taken to ensure that legislation was in place to ban single-use plastics.

Come January 1, Jamaica will implement a ban on certain single-use plastic products and Styrofoam packaging.

"Anyone who is conscious and looking at development in the environment and world events would know that a day was going to come when there has to be strong policy decisions on plastics. If you look worldwide, there have been policy responses to the plastic problem," said Knight.

Supporting that argument, Government Senator Matthew Samuda highlighted the negative effects of plastic on the environment.

"We have to remember that as a small island developing state that is literally surrounded by water, where 70 per cent of our population lives within five kilometres of the ocean, that anything that we do that impacts our coastline negatively, literally immediately, impacts 70 per cent of the population," said Samuda.

"We have 18,000 registered fishermen, give or take. Every time plastic goes into the marine environment, their life gets a little harder as well, so there's real deep impact from some of these materials going into that space."

 

CORRELATION WITH CERTAIN DISEASES

 

Questions and concerns have always been raised about the effects of plastic and Styrofoam on the health of humans, particularly if there was a correlation with certain diseases.

"The United Nations Environment Programme published a report earlier this year on plastics. The report now formally labels expanded polystyrene foam as carcinogenic, so people have been accusing it of being such, and scientists have said so," said Samuda.

"It's debatable who's the final authority, but people tend to rely a lot on what comes out of that UN environmental programme, and they have now viewed that as carcinogenic. So when you think of that burning and the air quality and all of the other issues just from interacting with a substance that's carcinogenic, it must have great issues with health."

Critics of the ban on plastic have always maintained that plastic is not the problem, it's improper disposal. However, Samuda argued: "Plastic is an extremely useful material, but it also creates problems regardless of whether it's disposed of properly or not. If you think of the fact that every time we buy a plastic bottle or a lunch box that's Styrofoam, and it is going to be here for a thousand years."

He continued, "So there are other issues and nobody can deny that. They are visible. You have a collection issue with your waste, however, some things shouldn't enter your waste stream at all, so what we are doing with this ban is trying to remove things that we don't believe should enter your waste stream, whether properly or improperly."

carlene.davis@gleanerjm.com