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Informal economy may pose problem to plastic ban

Published:Wednesday | January 2, 2019 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
Derrimon Trading chairman and CEO Derrick Cotterell.
Businessman Gassan Azan
Matthew Decasseres, sales manager DFL imports, inspects one of the paper shopping bag imported to replace plastic carrier bags.


Key retailers are charging for alternative carrier bags following the Jamaican Government's ban on single-use plastic bags. At the same time, at least one businessman has cautioned that while enforcement was not a problem for the formal sector, the authorities could face a problem with the ballooning informal economy.

Chief Executive Officer of MegaMart Wholesale Club and Bashco Trading Company retail store, Gassan Azan, says charging for bags in the face of the ban which took effect on January 1 will be the way to go.

"I think most of the supermarket trade has decided that they will have to start charging for packaging now," but said that "we would expect that people bring their own bags when they come to shop," Azan told the Financial Gleaner.

He says his chain of stores will be taking problems associated with the ban "in stride," since his group had already instituted the 'eco-friendly' line of containers more than five years ago.

"We already have our reusable bags in place. The eco-friendly bags are available at MegaMart and Bashco for $100 each," Azan said.

A similar situation obtains at two other chains of supermarkets. At Shoppers Fair, part of the Progressive group, reusable bags are available at checkout for $1.30 each. At Hi-Lo they are available at $1.20 each.

This is one of two options put to customers, according to Hi-Lo Customer Experience Manager Donna Taylor-Wright.

"Hi-Lo will offer the following options to our customers: one, bring your own bag, or two, reusable bags will be offered for sale at a minimal cost," she said.

Chief Executive Officer of Derrimon Trading Company Derrick Cotterell voiced his support for the ban. He says the move is what one would expect of a First World country and that Jamaica can be justly proud in placing itself ahead of many countries.

"We think the ban on these types of plastic bags is a good move and, therefore, we support the Government. The matter of plastic pollution is a very serious thing, more than many realise. We use too much of these bags and Jamaicans will just have to be more responsible," Cotterell said.

He says Sampars Cash and Carry, the wholesale division of Derrimon Trading, has a small amount of single-use bags in stock and that the Government will allow the next 30 days to dispose of them.

Meanwhile, Azan is sounding a note of caution regarding the plastic ban, stating that the Government may have an enforcement issue in the informal economy.

"The fact is that getting compliance from the formal economy was never an issue. What is at hand is that there is an informal economy that has ballooned way beyond the formal economy and it's hard to control, because they do what they want to do," Azan warned.

He also noted that Jamaicans have not been very careful in disposing of plastic bottles, leading to the problem of clogged drains. He added that the ban on plastic bags is only addressing the symptom rather than a deeply rooted problem.

"In the five years of having launched the eco programme, our biggest problem is that of persons who will purchase the bag but not bring it back when next shopping. What we really need is a change of culture," Azan said.