Barbadian supermarkets and retailers that charge for shopping bags will seemingly not be violating consumer protection laws.
The Fair Trading Commission (FTC) Thursday said the businesses had an obligation to advise shoppers of the new charge ahead of time, after which it was left to consumers to decide.
The Future Centre Trust and BICO yesterday announced that they were leading an initiative to reduce the use of plastic here, and come May 1, 2017 major supermarkets would charge 20 cents for each plastic shopping bag.
Consumer Protection Officer with the FTC Julia Regis told Barbados TODAY Thursday afternoon the Commission did not regulate prices and could not dictate to supermarkets or retailers if they should or should not place groceries in bags as part of the purchase.
Asked whether the Value Added Tax would be applied to the charge, Regis said the retailers had an obligation to advise shoppers of what was being done.
The announcement of the pending charge did not go down well with some Barbados TODAY readers and the island’s consumer rights body, which described it as “foolishness” and “absolute nonsense”.
Director General of the Barbados Consumer Research Association (BARCRA) Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt said he agreed the country should seek to limit its use of plastic bags and other harmful items.
However, he said slapping a charge was not the way to go about it.
“It is absolute nonsense,” an upset Gibbs-Taitt said, insisting consumers did not have an endless supply of money.
“I happen to agree that we need to reduce the plastic bags usage, but the way to do it is with the manufacturers of plastic rather than the end users of plastic. It would have been better if they had got together with the business people to reduce their [manufacturing] of plastics so that the consumers doesn’t get it in the first place not to charge the consumers for a convenience, because that is all it is.”
Saying he “shuddered to think what will be next”, the consumer rights advocate complained that too often a tax or levy was imposed on anything considered to be a problem and “that kind of foolishness needs to stop”.
“I call it foolishness of charging consumers for every ill that you can conceive of. It is gross and needs to stop. Unfortunately our consumers are not smart enough to stick two fingers up to these people and tell them to go fly a kite. That needs to be done,” Gibbs-Taitt told Barbados TODAY.
“Education is a good way to go. Barbadians need to be educated on what not to do rather than to follow foolishness implemented by foolish people.”
The United Kingdom government implemented a five pence charge on plastic bags in October 2015, and the authorities there have since reported a significant drop in the number of plastic bags being used within the first six months, and are projecting a drop of about 83 per cent if the trend continues over the year.
However, Gibbs-Taitt, who lived in the UK for more than two decades, told Barbados TODAY this was because people there would not pay for these bags.
“Implementing a five pence charge on bags, I would not be surprised at all if people went ahead and bought themselves sensible carrier bag and did not buy the [plastic] bags in the first place. The UK consumer is too smart . . . to fall for the foolishness.”
The pending measure has been met with mixed reaction from Barbados TODAY readers, with some welcoming it as an “excellent” idea, while others dismissed it as an “idiotic” move.
One poster, Amanda Clarke, said it was a move “in the right direction”, and recommended replacing styrofoam with recyclable products as the next step.
“Glad to see moves are being made . . . before another terrible idea like Cahill comes about again,” Clarke posted in a reference to the now abandoned idea of a waste to energy plant here.
However, poster Sharon Taylor captured the sentiments of those opposed to the idea by stating: “I hope dem allowed to give out paper bags free! Wunna trying at every turn to kill d poor man . . . stupse.”