Tue | Jun 25, 2019

Scramble for paper bags as shortage impacts customers

Published:Wednesday | March 27, 2019 | 12:10 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer

Businessman John Mahfood says a scramble is now under way to protect earnings at his St Andrew supermarket, Shoppers Delite, because the Government rushed to impose a ban on single-use plastic bags, without putting measures in place to meet high demand for the now preferred paper packaging.

At the same time, local manufacturers of paper bags are also feeling the squeeze, as some neither have the resources to produce nor import enough to satisfy demand.

Mahfood told The Gleaner on Monday that overseas suppliers of paper bags are finding it difficult to keep up with Jamaica’s appetite.

“If customers come in and we don’t have reusable bags and we don’t have paper bags, they either get upset with us or they say they can’t buy the goods. Government made the ruling, but at least work with the business people to ensure everybody makes the transition and don’t leave it up to the private sector, but help to lead the process. This implementation was not thought through well enough, so we are just going to have to continue to struggle, said Mahfood, who is CEO of Jamaican Teas.

“There are a number of people importing bags, some for the first time. The people they are importing bags from are also scrambling to increase production to meet Jamaica’s demands, within two or three months. Government might say, ‘We told you from last year.’ In fact, they did not notify importers of the quantities required. It is a very bad situation we are in. Importers are realising the shortfall that exists, because we don’t really make these (bags) in Jamaica,” Mahfood pointed out.

‘Not practical’

The businessman revealed that he has been breaking up large boxes to make smaller ones because “one doesn’t really mind taking a drink in their hand, but to take more than a drink and a bun in your hand is really not practical”.

He explained that early January when the ban on single-use plastic bags came into effect, “We [complained] to the Jamaica Manufacturers [and Exporters]Association. We were told we would have reprieve for a month to allow people to make necessary arrangements. The point I am making is that very shortly thereafter, we started to scramble. There should have been a period of meeting with importers to make sure there are enough paper bags being imported. There are not enough paper bags in the country.”

Denton Campbell, engineering and production manager at a St Andrew company, CSO Industries, one of the few companies that produce paper bags locally, told The Gleaner on Monday that the company has had to be importing bags to supplement what it produced.

He pointed out that the cost of a brand new machine to produce large paper bags – he currently manufactures small 1lb-6lb bags – would run upwards of US$200,000 (J$25 million). A second-hand machine costs in the region of US$80,000 (J$10 million).

“If we are to get one of those machines, I would have to talk to the bank. We have been under pressure. They didn’t think it through properly. They banned plastic and just said cut it out and bring in paper bags. We never prepared for it, so we ran in a jam. We have to import to keep going, because everybody is rushing for paper bags,” he said.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com