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SCANDALOUS!

Published:Sunday | June 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Environmentalists charge Government moving too slow to rid Jamaica of 'scandal bags' and other plastic products

Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

The Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change is pondering how to deal with the devastating impact that plastics bags are having on Jamaica, but for local environmentalists nothing less than a full ban on these 'scandals' will be good enough.

"We have to see how best we can put something in place to deal with this, as we know that this is a major issue," Ian Hayles, junior minister in the environment ministry, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) is looking at other biodegradable bags that will not affect the country the way these 'scandal' bags impact us, and is working with solid waste to come up with something suitable," added Hayles.

He noted that the plastic bags, dubbed 'scandal bags' by most Jamaicans, continue to hurt the environment many years after they are disposed of.

BAN ON PLASTIC IN HAITI

That is a fact which local environmentalists have long been pointing out to the Government as they note that many other countries, including regional neighbour Haiti, have put a ban on these bags and other plastic products.

"The problem we have in Jamaica is that we talk about these things and have been talking about them for many, many years, and we talk but we don't do," charged Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust.

"I do not understand it. We are a small island. The results of our poor environmental management are everywhere you look, and you just cannot get even the simplest and most common-sense action carried out.

"Plastic impacts on lots of different marine life, whether it's a plastic bag or a bottle, because the bottles break down into smaller pieces which are ingested. There are areas in the ocean where currents take all these plastics and it's just a basic plastic soup."

She noted that plastic is said to account for close to two million deaths of wildlife, including birds, dolphins and other marine creatures, each year.

Fellow environmentalist Peter Espeut concurred: "The negative effect of these plastic products continues even after they go into the sea. So it is very important for us to realise that we have no business having plastic bags in our natural environment at all. It would be good public policy to ban plastic bottles, plastic bags and plastic products in general from our natural environment.

"Our solid-waste disposal arrangements are not geared to handling this kind of material and so we don't do well with that at all," continued Espeut.

Some retail stores have already started to move away from the scandal bags by introducing 'green bags'.

According to Omar Azan, marketing manager of retail giants MegaMart, his store undertook the initiative four years ago and would not be opposed to a ban on plastic bags.

"I think it would be a concept that we would like to buy into and agree with because, of course, it is savings for us and better for the environment for certain," said Azan.

"But at the end of the day, I think we would also want to make sure that the people who shop with us are satisfied with the concept. While I am not opposed to the concept of going green, I have to satisfy my customers, and if the status quo in Jamaica, for example, is, 'Weh mi plastic bag deh? Weh mi scandal bag deh? If I stop providing it and they don't want to have to bring a bag they are going to shop somewhere else, and I can't afford that."

There is also the option of biodegradable plastic bags which can be decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms, and are said to have a less significant impact on the environment.

Lee's Food Fair on Red Hills Road introduced these bags two years ago, but with the biodegradable bags being 15 per cent more expensive than regular plastic bags, Marketing Manager Patrick Lee believes there is only one way to ensure a total switch.

"If the Government steps in to make it very difficult for you to get plastic bags. Because a lot of inexpensive scandal bags, non-biodegradable bags, are coming in regularly still and the price is very attractive, so it makes it more feasible and they are more abundant in selling it to you."

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com