Protecting the environment plastic bagsand styrofoam to be banned in a year’s time Print E-mail
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Thursday, 22 March 2018 00:00

The Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development; the Ministry of Investment, Trade and, Commerce and the Ministry of Tourism led a collaborative taskforce to take a proposal to the Cabinet to reduce pollution through the phasing out of one-use plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, and plastic food utensils. This first phase is estimated to be done by April 22, 2019 and was done through the collaborative efforts of the Department of the Environment, Customs Department, BELTRAIDE, Directorate General of Foreign Trade, and Solid Waste Management Authority. Cabinet approved the proposal of Tuesday, March 20, 2018.

Phasing out of these items is a necessary pollution control measure to protect both the terrestrial and marine environments. Biodegradable alternatives, manufactured from plant-based materials, already exist on the Belizean market. Often times, those items are used only once before they are disposed of, lasting decades in a garbage dump or, more unfortunately, existing as waste on the side of highways, in rivers, along coastlines, and in the sea, causing harm to the fauna.

Annual clean-up campaigns are costly and the brunt of the burden is usually felt by volunteers and relative agencies. In the municipal waste stream, plastic and Styrofoam comprise about 19% of the volume, and therefore 19% of the cost of national solid waste management.

This form of pollution is a global concern as large floating piles of debris can be found in the Caribbean Sea as well as other major bodies of water. Because they are carried by these bodies of water, the piles are often difficult to track and costly to clean up, especially when they make their way into the Belize Barrier Reef.

Belize is not the first to take this initiative. It has not been long since Hon. Romauld Ferreira, Minister of Environment and Housing in the Bahamas, announced a plan to ban plastic bags in the country. This announcement reportedly came after a youth delegation from the environmental NGO Bahamas Plastic Movement (BPM) traveled from Eleuthera to Nassau to advocate for a nationwide ban on plastic bags for the country.

According to the founder of BPM, Kristal Ambrose, given the abundance of plastic and other one-use and disposable material, their goal is “to see a reduction in plastic bag use and plastic bag litter in the country; however our ultimate goal is to have a complete ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam for the entire Bahamas by the year 2020.”

Just like in Belize, the tourism sector plays a great role toward total revenue collection in the Bahamas. Representatives from BPM said if the rate of plastic pollution on beaches increases, it could cause up to US $8.5 million in tourism losses annually for the country.

Before their meeting with Minister Ferreira, the students participated in a Youth Activism Workshop hosted by BPM. Over the course of four days, students learned to conduct social science surveys to gather data on the amount of plastic bags used by locals on a daily basis. The students even learnt about the legislative process of The Bahamas, with the help of Ronique Carey, a Bahamian lawyer. After reviewing several case studies of countries around the world with effective plastic bag bans in place, the students successfully drafted a legally binding bill for a plastic bag regulation for The Bahamas, which was then presented to the Minister. The first phase of the proposed regulation requested a levy on plastic bags for businesses and an imposed plastic bag tax for consumers wishing to receive a plastic bag at the point of sale. As a result, Minister Ferreira proposed to ban plastic bags completely in The Bahamas, followed by various types of single-use plastics such as polystyrene.

In Belize, the NGO Oceana issued a release congratulating the government on the phasing of bags and Styrofoam and food utensils. The release quotes Oceana’s Vice President, Janelle Chanona saying that, “this policy change will once again place Belize among the world leaders in the safeguarding of our natural resources from the harmful effects of single use plastics and Styrofoam,” she added that, “We are confident that by localizing the experiences of Caribbean countries like Antigua and Barbuda and our friends in Taiwan, this shift can be both successful and beneficial on multiple fronts”.