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How Jamaica’s Plastic Bag Ban Has Been Implemented

tomatoes in plastic bags
(Photo: Pixabay)
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The plastic bag ban, which came into place on January 1st, 2019, shows that the government is making strident moves towards sustainability.

Over 2019, Jamaica will be making the transition to an outright ban on single-use plastic bags, straws, and styrofoam. The landmark comes after many years of high use of plastic bags, resulting in catastrophic effects of scenery and environment. Historically, Jamaica has had one of the biggest problems with single-use plastic per capita in the world.

The ban covers the manufacture, distribution or importation of single-use plastic, and includes the use of ‘scandal’ bags – opaque bags used in the distribution of potentially scandalous materials.

Matthew Samuda

The move comes after many years of campaigning from one of the Jamaican government’s youngest members. Matthew Samuda, a lifelong resident of Kingston, has a background in entrepreneurship, as well as local government. It was through his foundation of the first full-service recycling company in Jamaica that he has been able to identify the scale of the problem.

Following his business ventures, he was appointed to the Upper House of Parliament at just 32, which made him one of the youngest senators in government. Very quickly he made his case for radical change in how the country manages its waste.

Jamaican Senate

In July of 2016, Mr. Samuda stood before the Senate and proposed a ban on the importation of plastic bags below 50 gallons and an outright ban on styrofoam products. He acknowledged a widespread problem, not just in the manufacture and distribution of non-biodegradable items, but in the public perception.

He went forward to table a motion which sought to curtail the production of plastic which did not include biodegrading enzymes. Along with this was the recognition that the problem of waste on the island would not be solved by a single action but a series of policies to change civic and public attitudes.

The moves since then have received widespread support across the whole political spectrum, including the Parliamentary opposition. This has helped the government to maintain forward traction, rather than be used as a political football.

Jamaica’s Energy Mix

Following the motion, the government as a whole threw its weight behind it. In a landmark move, the Prime Minister stated his commitment to balancing economic growth whilst ensuring a rigorous control of elements detrimental to environmental protection.

With the Prime Minister’s support, Mr. Samuda was given the opportunity to rally government stakeholder agencies to work towards a common solution. Following a period of intense negation and scrutiny of economic factors, as well as engagement with the various industries affected, the government has pushed ahead with the changes.

Crucially, in 2018 the Prime Minister announced that there would be a change in Energy Mix policy. He stated that government would make efforts towards a renewable energy supply target of 50% by 2030, up from 20% The current energy mix is heavily dependent on oil, the import of which is 2010 exceeded the value of exported goods.

This has meant there has been price fluctuation. There have been calls for greater investment in renewable to combat the country’s reliance on imported energy sources. Some have suggested preferential tariffs for renewable energy producers, and a radical change in infrastructure to support wind and solar. There have even been calls to harness the energy created in sugar cane production, utilizing Bagasse, a high energy by-product of sugar cane production.”

The Ban

The plastic bag ban, which came into place on January 1st, 2019, shows that the government is making strident moves towards sustainability. Environmental groups, such as those who put forward the suggestions above, have welcomed the move.

The ban itself covers not just plastic bags smaller than 24×24 inches, but plastic straws and styrofoam. Governmental forces have stated that there is a widespread effort to promote reusable carrier bags, particularly those produced by local enterprises.

There are exemptions, however, on the single-use plastic which is used to maintain public health or food safety standards. These include medical equipment and storage as well as the plastic used to package raw meat and other high-risk food produce. Styrofoam is now widely prohibited, but there is a system in place which allows local manufacturers to apply for an exemption until 2021.

Industry Responses

Perhaps unsurprisingly, concerns raised about the ban have come from the Manufacturing industry. With a historic reliance on single-use plastic to package and distribute goods, individuals in the industry are worried about the economic impact of the measure on the industry.

However, the government has responded to the concern by making finances available to the industry to ease the transition. There is a recognition that the Manufacturing industry will need time to change its methods, and the finances are specifically dedicated to the ‘retooling’ of the industry.

In contrast, the ban has been heralded by the Tourism industry. Jamaica is known for its sunny beaches and beautiful marine life, and the impact of single-use plastic has been aesthetic as well as environmental.

For this reason, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association, as well as various hotel groups in the country have formally supported the move. The Sandals group of hotels, for instance, have expanded the policy to all their hotels throughout the Caribbean.

Public Engagement

A major factor in the ban is how the public engages with it. Matthew Samuda has stated that the change has required the support of the citizens. Overall, there has been a greater understanding of the impact of plastic on the environment, but the practicalities of combatting it often make the transition difficult.

A major concern from the public has been the safe disposal of waste. The bags which have fallen under the ban have had widespread use in the disposal of domestic waste, and many worry that they will now have few options in this respect. This policy has accommodated the problem by exempting bags used for waste disposal.”

However, the Jamaican government has placed great importance on public education regarding environmental engagement. This has meant not just programs rolled out in schools but a critical consultation policy to ensure that the public at large understands the urgency of the situation.

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