Mon | Dec 16, 2019

Earth Today | Marine biologist says no to delay of styrofoam ban

Published:Thursday | November 14, 2019 | 12:21 AM
Plastics pollution represents a growing problem for Jamaica.
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MARINE BIOLOGIST Professor Mona Webber has added the weight of her own voice to the call to ignore appeals to delay the implementation of the January 2020 ban on styrofoam.

According to Webber, director of the Centre for Marine Sciences at The University of the West Indies, there is too much at risk for the environment and for public health.

“I don’t agree with delaying the ban at all – for the sake of the nature of the material and how easily it becomes irretrievable. Styrofoam fragments very easily, and so it becomes micro-plastics even faster than the other less easily fragmented plastics. So, for example, we were on Refuge Cay a couple Mondays ago and there were a lot of small fragments of styrofoam all over the cay, and this is despite the cleaning,” she told The Gleaner.

“Also, styrene and benzene and those chemicals are not good for us. The science has not confirmed, but they are strongly suspected to be carcinogens. And so, for the sake of the potential effect on our bodies and the definite effect that you see in terms of the environment, we have to find alternatives. The more you delay, the more we relax. We have set a deadline and we should hold to it: January 2020,” she added.

Plastics have, over recent years – substantiated by several studies, including at least one that was co-authored by Webber herself – become a ballooning pollution problem for Jamaica and other islands of the Caribbean.

They cause entanglement, ingestion and starvation among some marine species, and enable the transport of invasive species and pollutants from polluted rivers to remote areas in the ocean.

Plastics pollution also presents a significant economic risk, given the negative impacts on the fisheries and tourism industries; and pose a solid waste-disposal nightmare for communities.

EFFECT ON BUSINESSES

Eleanor Jones, who heads the Energy, Environment and Climate Change Committee of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, is of a different view from Webber.

She believes an extension should be granted, having regard to the implications for the bottom line of, in particular, small and medium-size businesses and with a view to ensuring the long-term success of the ban.

“You need a substitute for it (styrofoam), but you can’t say, effective today. You don’t change people’s behaviour in two months, and an announcement is a completely different thing from a behaviour modification plan,” she said.

“We have to be ready. And we don’t want to put people out of a livelihood,” added Jones, who also heads the consultancy firm Environmental Solutions Limited.

Their comments come following news that a group of local distributors and manufacturers had written to the Government asking for a delay of the ban.

While not insensitive to the plight of small businesses that will need to move quickly to transition to more environmentally friendly options to package meals, for example, Webber insists the time is now to proceed with the ban.

“Several cities have banned styrofoam. We are not the first, and I really think if we put our minds to it, we can find alternatives,” she said.

“We have seen persons bring alternatives. Perhaps we could do something about the import duties and those things to make them cheaper for the small businesses. But we need to do it (proceed with the ban). We have a schedule. I say we stick to our guns,” added Webber, who also heads the Discovery Bay Marine Lab.

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