Wed | Sep 23, 2020

Earth Today | Research institute questions Jamaica’s plastic prohibition

Published:Thursday | January 31, 2019 | 12:00 AM
One of the plastic ban ads that has been shared via social media.

WITH PLASTIC production ballooning globally in the last 50 years – from a reported 15 million tons in 1964 to some 311 million tons in 2014 – Jamaica is not the only country that has sought, through a ban, to help arrest the associated pollution.

The trouble, according to the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), is that bans applied elsewhere in the world have not proven to be especially effective or sustainable, whereas the application of a surcharge has.

“CAPRI looked at countries around the world – developed and developing – that had done different things to deal with the plastic problem and almost without exception, the countries that had a ban had failed. Without fail, the countries that did surcharges had seen drops in plastic bags of up to 90 per cent within three to six months,” said director of research at CAPRI, Dr Diana Thorburn.

This point is well made in the institute’s recent report titled ‘Managing Plastic Waste: Single-use Plastic Bags’, which cites examples from countries including Ireland, England and Denmark that have successfully imposed a surcharge on plastic bags.

In the case of Ireland, which in 2002 imposed a levy with a law requiring retailers to charge a £0.15 cent to customers at point of sale, they saw, the report said, “90 per cent of customers returning to reusable bags within a year and one billion fewer bags used”.


Rwanda, on the other hand, went the route of a ban in 2004 which, while effective, has not been without challenges.

“The ban has proven to be highly effective in maintaining a clean and healthy environment and the country has developed an international reputation for cleanliness. Its capital city Kigali is often lauded as Africa’s cleanest city and was officially named the cleanest city in Africa in 2008 by United Nations Habitat,” the report revealed.

It has, however, also led to the emergence of “a thriving black market” for plastic bags.

“Authorities continuously carry out random and robust checks to suppress this illegal activity and smugglers are subject to fines and jail time once caught,” the CAPRI report noted.

Given Jamaica’s track record of enforcement and with limited resources, Thorburn insists the better option for the island is a surcharge.

“The problem with the ban is that enforcement takes huge amounts of resources and we do not have a track record of enforcement in this country, so to expect that all of a sudden we are going to enforce this one new thing is unrealistic,” she said.

Still, the researcher concedes that the ban is a start and recommends a robust public education campaign to boost its chances for success.

“At the end of the day, I would say a ban is better than nothing and I would love to be proven wrong that a ban is not going to work,” she toldThe Gleaner.

“An effective public education campaign would be the answer because then you are not relying on the Government, you are relying on the people. So have the ban, but don’t expect Government to enforce because they don’t have the capacity. Give it to people and then perhaps we can see a change. If you can get hearts and minds against the bags, then you have won the war,” she added.


Meanwhile, Anthony McKenzie, director of environmental management and conservation at the National Environment and Planning Agency, said the decision to go the route of a ban was one made following consultations with a variety of stakeholders.

“This was considered by a multi-stakeholder working group named by the Cabinet. The ultimate recommendation was for the phased banning of the plastics (and) it was after the deliberation of that committee, comprised of sector groups, industry players and people from government who met over a period of nine months that the decision was made,” he said.

There have also been some ongoing public awareness efforts, among them a series of advertisements, including online; stakeholder meetings; and media engagement with the minister with responsibility for the environment, Daryl Vaz. The National Environment and Planning Agency has also set up an email address ( and number (876-285-8531) to accept queries from the public.