Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Editorial | Whither the plastic ban campaign?

Published:Wednesday | November 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We are encouraged by Daryl Vaz's optimism that Jamaica's proposed ban on single-use plastic bags, and some other plastic containers, will unleash domestic investment in the manufacturing of alternative products, and his seeming confidence that entrepreneurs will readily find the capital for these ventures.

Yet, this newspaper is not as sanguine ,as the Cabinet minister seems to be, that all is in place for the transition to a limited-plastic environment in a mere two months.

Indeed, no one knows just yet what will be the penalties for persons who breach the proposed restrictions, or how they will be policed or applied. The matter isn't even being discussed.

This matter was on the agenda for two years since government senator Matthew Samuda first tabled the resolution for the ban in the Upper House, until Mr Vaz, who has responsibility for the environment in the economic growth and job-creation superministry, announced that the new regime would take effect on January 1 next year. Under the scheme, single-use plastic bags, below a certain size, or except that they are employed in institutions with special dispensation, will be banned. So, too, will plastic drinking cups and straws.

A bar on the importation of styrofoam food containers will also come into force at the same time, but an end to their domestic manufacture will happen a year later. A regime for the ubiquitous PET bottles, which make up the bulk of Jamaica's domestic-use, plastic-container waste, is being developed - we expect.

What is surprising, though, with the articulation of the plastics container policy coming so late in the day, and in the short time until its enactment, is that so little public education about the plan - about the expectations of the authorities, possible alternatives to plastics, and how people can adapt to the changes - has taken place. We had expected a rigorous, Government-led discourse on these issues.

But perhaps our shock is misplaced.

At the time of the unveiling of the policy, this newspaper enquired of UnaMay Gordon, the head of the Climate Change Division in Mr Vaz's ministry, of the sanctions that would underpin the regulations. What price would someone pay if she thumbed her nose at them? Ms Gordon insisted that the question was "premature".

 

Still in drafting

 

"You can't talk about penalty and sanction yet, and you don't have legislation yet," she said. "We (are) just into drafting now. You can't answer that question now, because that question is premature."

Mr Vaz and other relevant persons will by now have drafted the regulations, penalties included, to be appended, we expect, to the Anti-Litter Act and other environmental laws. They probably have been discussed with what, in bureaucratese, are referred to as critical stakeholders. The only problem is that the wider public, which will be most affected by the regulations, and from whom behavioural change is expected , don't yet know.

There is, nonetheless, an upside. Speaking at a business event this week, Mr Vaz not only said that the ban on plastics opened new opportunities "for alternative packaging businesses", but that discussions were already taking place with the Development Bank of Jamaica and the Export-Import Bank on how they might support firms seeking to restructure their operations to comply with the ban.

That's good news, but we would have hoped that given the fundamental nature of this policy, such scoping would have already taken place and initiatives designed and ready to go.

But, as they say, better late then never - including for an education campaign about this ban on plastic bags.