Tue | Sep 17, 2019

Hefty fines for ‘scandal bag’, plastic straw distributors after February

Published:Monday | February 11, 2019 | 12:13 AM
President of the Rotary Club of Trafalgar, Janelle Pantry Coke, greets Senator Matthew Samuda before his address to club members recently at the CRU Bar and Kitchen on Lady Musgrave Road in St Andrew.
Senator Matthew Samuda addressing Rotarians of the Rotary Club of Trafalgar New Heights in St Andrew during its general meeting last week.

Come the end of February, businesses which continue to distribute single-use plastic bags, commonly known as ‘scandal bags’, and plastic straws to consumers, should expect to be levied with heavy fines. The warning comes as extensions, which were granted to some businesses, expire at the end of the month. The announcement was made by Senator Matthew Samuda at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Trafalgar New Heights in St Andrew recently. The senator, who is seen as the champion of the legislation to ban single-use plastic bags and plastic straws, said businesses which continue to distribute the illicit items after February 28 should expect to be fined up to $2 million. Scandal bags, plastic straws, and the importation of Styrofoam containers were banned on January 1.

“I wouldn’t suggest that supermarkets and other businesses continue in perpetuity. We are nearing the end of the extensions that would have been granted; so my expectation is that at the end of February, you’re not going to see bags, and where you see bags, you are going to see some fines published inThe Gleaner,” Samuda warned. “It can’t be good business to incur a $2 million fine.”

He said businesses, especially those with an international footprint which needed to wait on directions from their head offices overseas, are among entities which were granted extensions.

“We saw evidence, in some cases where people ordered from October and their bags will reach February 15. I wasn’t about to suggest to anybody that they get fined $2 million when clear effort would have been made to comply two weeks after the policy announcement had been made,” he said.

However, the senator said that the Government has given businesses ample time to comply.

Major changes

“You’re going to see some major changes with some of your major fast-food chains, I would say in the next week and a half. The larger supermarkets [which] I checked last week, gave me estimates of seven to 10 days of stock remaining,” he said.

Samuda said that by the end of February, he expects that the Government would have prevented the importation of a billion scandal bags into the country, noting that in the first 10 days of the ban on January 1, one million imports had been stopped.

Turning to styrofoam, Senator Samuda said the ban will continue to be implemented on a phased basis. On January 1, imported containers, which make up about 30 per cent of local supply, were banned, while local manufacturers who supply the remaining 70 per cent have until the end of the year to discontinue.

“The stocks [of Styrofoam] that are in trade are much heavier than the stocks that would be in trade of plastic bags. So you had to do it on a phased basis to run out the stock,” he explained.

Samuda said the time being provided by the government should allow local manufacturers to realise the value of their investment in equipment and to retool, as well as provide more time to educate consumers. He says the National Environment and Planning Agency has already spent $45 million on public education and that monies have been budgeted for further education in the next fiscal year.

“So in January of next year you don’t go to buy lunch and can’t get lunch because nobody has anything to serve it in. So people have been given fair warning. It’s coming and they should be aware that it’s coming,” he said.

The government senator explained that the third and final phase of the ban will target manufacturers of children-friendly plastic drink boxes and pouches with straws attached. Businesses which manufacture these products have been given until January 1, 2021 to comply.

“Documents would have been given to us to show that they couldn’t retool any earlier than that because they are using global technology and some of those companies have said that they are exploring spouts; they are exploring screw tops - anything that would reduce the overall plastic consumption,” he said.