Tue | Sep 22, 2020

Wisynco cuts 100 jobs ahead of Styrofoam ban

Published:Sunday | December 29, 2019 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris - Staff Reporter
William Mahfood
Daryl Vaz, minister with responsibility for the environment, displays a Styrofoam box while announcing the ban on single-use plastics at Jamaica House in September 2018. The ban on single-use plastics came into effect on January 1, 2019 and the ban on Styrofoam comes into effect on January 1, 2020.
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The Wisynco Group has made the positions of more than 100 workers redundant in the last few weeks and has opted out of the food packaging business as the Government remains firm in its decision to place a ban on all Styrofoam products come January 1, 2020.

Chairman of the manufacturing and distribution company, William Mahfood, said the company ceased production of Styrofoam products a few weeks ago and the positions of the workers were made redundant this month.

“We are actually coming out of the packaging business,” he told The Sunday Gleaner when contacted on Friday.

“It is a very, very small part of our business. I think actually, we will probably end up becoming more profitable as a company, because the sales people will focus more on our beverage business and the other products which are more profitable,” he said.

The Wisynco Group was the only manufacturer of Styrofoam containers in the island. The closure will see the company missing out on about $1 billion in revenue.

The proposed ban on locally manufactured and distributed polystyrene foam products used in the food and beverage industry follows the implementation of phase one of the ban on the importation of single-use plastics such as ‘scandal bags’ and straw on January 1, 2019. Several stakeholders had pleaded with the Government to delay the second phase, but Daryl Vaz, minister with responsibility for the environment, has insisted that there are several alternatives available.

No extension

“Government was firm in their decision, and I think everybody is standing behind that,” said Mahfood.

“We took a decision recently to discontinue selling all packaging materials, so we are out of the business, focusing on the core business that we have,” he said.

Vaz believes that manufacturers were given ample time to make the switch to Styrofoam alternatives.

“It has been 15 months that people have had notice in relation to alternatives, so I am expecting that the alternatives will be available and there should be a smooth transition,” he said.

“We have had that discussion with them (stakeholders) and they have put their case forward and it was communicated to them that the extension would not be granted,” said Vaz.

Peter Knight, chief executive officer of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), is optimistic that consumers will not be affected when the ban takes effect this Wednesday. In fact, he is pleased that several supermarkets and major wholesalers have already started introducing alternatives.

“We are not going to be looking at going to the little soup man on the side, the vendor and so on. What we want to concentrate on is the source, so the production and distribution, which is the same approach we used with the ban on single-use plastic bags and straws,” he said.

He said visits are to be made to the producers of these products to ensure that production has ceased.

“Remember that when we had the first phase, we allowed a depletion of supplies. I am not going to tell you that we are going to allow it for one month or two month or so on, but naturally, if there are products that are already on the market – not new products that are being sent on the market, products that are already on the market – I am sure that we are going to use common sense and we will allow the depletion of supplies within a certain time frame,” he said.

Behaviour change

Knight said he was confident that Jamaicans would adapt, as they did when the ban on single-use plastics and straws was introduced. He said the Jamaica Customs Agency has done an admirable job in helping to ensure that these bags have not been imported into the island.

“I see the behaviour change, I see people walking around with their shopping bags, I see people going to the supermarket, people forget their bags and take a box, because there is no plastic bags in the marketplace to pack groceries, so you have to bring your own bags,” he said.

Although the majority of Jamaicans seem to be conforming to the ban, there are currently about 30 cases before the courts related to breaches of the law. It is an offence to import, manufacture, distribute or use single-use plastic bags of dimensions not exceeding 24x24 inches and 1.2 mil in thickness; and plastic drinking straws. The importation of expanded polystyrene foam products used in the food and beverage industry is also prohibited. If convicted, offenders may be fined up to $2 million or face a term of two years imprisonment.

In the meantime, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has announced that it plans to focus on educating Jamaicans, through its Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica campaign, about reducing the use of single-use plastic as Jamaica’s plastic ban expands to include all Styrofoam food and beverage containers.

“First up on our 2020 Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica line-up will be a Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica Road Trip in late January to promote the Styrofoam ban and highlight alternatives to all the single-use plastic items which are banned in Jamaica – bags, straws, Styrofoam,” said Lauren Creary, project coordinator at JET.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com