Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Samuda urges scrutiny as plastics replace foam

Published:Tuesday | September 22, 2020 | 12:12 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Sirgany Beach is littered with garbage, including plastic lunch containers that have replaced the now-banned styrofoam boxes. Styrofoam is not biodegradable and was a nagging pollutant dumped in drains and along coastlines.
Sirgany Beach is littered with garbage, including plastic lunch containers that have replaced the now-banned styrofoam boxes. Styrofoam is not biodegradable and was a nagging pollutant dumped in drains and along coastlines.
Senator Matthew Samuda, who piloted legislation banning styrofoam, plastic straws, and some plastic bags.
Senator Matthew Samuda, who piloted legislation banning styrofoam, plastic straws, and some plastic bags.
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Legislation banning styrofoam has spurred a boom in plastic food packaging, which inadvertently presents a similar, if not worse, problem regarding a rise in non-biodegradables.

Senator Matthew Samuda, who in 2018 piloted the ban on single-use plastics, has called for greater scrutiny on purportedly biodegradable products.

“Some things claiming to be biodegradable give me concern because I don’t believe they are,” Samuda said.

The ban on the local manufacture, distribution, and use of expanded polystyrene foam products used in the food and beverage industry came into effect on January 1 as part of the Holness administration’s anti-pollution measures.

Samuda, who returned to the Holness Cabinet as minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, said that he remains unimpressed by many of the alternatives to plastic in the marketplace.

“It doesn’t quite defeat the purpose (of the ban) but it also has achieved the goal, because these plastic containers are recyclable, which goes into how far advanced we are with the recycling efforts,” he said.

Samuda credited Daryl Vaz, a former non-portfolio minister who had oversight of lands, for establishing the planks of the Deposit Refund Scheme on plastic bottles.

The senator said that a meeting is to be scheduled with newly installed Minister of Environment Pearnel Charles Jr to “cover all the bases” going forward to allow him “space to take action” on the matter.

Jamaica Environment Trust Chairman Diana McCaulay said that while there has been an obvious increase in the use of plastic containers, particularly in the takeout business, certification is required to define just how recyclable, or biodegradable, they really are.

McCaulay says food operators have made a noticeable effort to use more cardboard packaging.

“I think the main thing we have to look at is to make sure the packaging that is being used is recyclable, and if not so, is there a programme to recycle these in Jamaica?” she asked.

“If the main recyclers in Jamaica are taking back the newer forms of packaging, then I would say we have made some progress.

She said also that given the recycling effort, progress has been made in respect to PET bottles.

Economist and executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, Dr Damien King, said that policymakers could have addressed the environmental scandal of plastic bags and styrofoam packaging with tax credits but instead chose prohibition.

He believes that the Government will resort to prohibition as the template in tackling the disposal of plastic food containers.

“I don’t see why they would now approach the same problem with a different solution,” he said.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com