Editorial | Plastic ban success
The ban on single-use plastic bags and straws which came into effect earlier this year is being hailed as a success by Senator Matthew Samuda. The young government senator has been one of the main drivers of this project. Judging from the images of men and women toting their reusable cloth bags to stores and supermarkets, it would appear that a new consciousness has arisen about the dangers of single-use plastic.
Public awareness about the dangers of plastic to the environment heightened with the Government-imposed ban. The campaign echoed environmentalists’ warning that the economic, health and environmental well-being of the country was being threatened by plastic waste clogging drains and blighting coastal areas and public spaces.
The campaign was timely because our gullies and beaches were choking with the plastic discards that flowed from homes and businesses, to the detriment of marine life. It was recognised that a reduction in plastic consumption would naturally lead to a reduction, especially of the ubiquitous ‘scandal’ bags which are discarded in our landfills and sea.
The ban was heavily criticised by many who complained that more time was needed to prepare for the new realities.
Others felt the ban would be largely ignored and it would have been business as usual. Jamaica’s ambitious plastic ban was featured in overseas news, which profiled Jamaica as a country which was trying to tackle environmental problems ahead of many First World states.
We declare that Jamaicans have demonstrated that they can fall in line and embrace rules and regulations when there is strong leadership. Indeed, effective leadership is essential for coping with the many environmental and social issues which confront any nation.
It is obvious that more people are now thinking about eco-friendly alternatives, whether in their homes or businesses. For the ban to succeed, changes were demanded at many levels. First, individuals had to acknowledge that they needed to find alternatives to plastic bags, in particular, and to plastic generally, in favour of biodegradable, recycling-friendly materials.
THE NEXT STEP
Business operators in the food and retail industry had to integrate new environmental thinking into their business plans and operations in order to become compliant with the new regulations. In order not to enable those who were bent on resisting change, businesses provided alternatives, such as cardboard boxes, and paper bags, and many offered cloth bags for sale. Business persons were forced to conform in the face of the threat of hefty fines as high as $2 million or imprisonment of two years hanging over their heads.
While we celebrate this small victory, we must acknowledge that the single-use plastic ban is a small part of the environmental challenge that Jamaica faces. From the intermittent flare-ups which spew toxic fumes from the Riverton City dump, to the piles of garbage left on our beaches and the indiscriminate dumping of garbage in gullies and waterways, we are a long way from achieving environmental health. Indeed, many businesses such as restaurants continue to use non-biodegradable material such as styrofoam containers.
One of the next steps in this new consciousness is the separation of garbage, with the National Solid Waste Management Authority announcing that the collection of PET bottles will be implemented in certain communities, starting in the current financial year.
The lesson from this project is that Jamaicans can be compliant in a regulatory environment where there is tight legislation and enforcement, encouraged by strong leadership.