They say old habits are hard to give up. And it seems if those habits are not good, it is even harder to get rid of them. I suspect this is the case with the attempt to decrease the usage of plastic on our island.
The Future Centre Trust on June 1 launched a campaign to eradicate plastic bags. In its promotional material, it highlighted in bold print “Plastic Bags are Strangling Barbados”. It went on to state that “As of June 1, we will be charging for plastic bags”… “Support the Barbados Retail Campaign to eradicate plastic bags.” The promotional material also offered a solution: “When shopping always carry your reusable bag or be prepared to pay”.
The campaign has had a mixed reaction and even before it rolled out, it had many critics. Barbados TODAY reported in February this year “With three months to go before the May 1, commencement date for shoppers to pay 20 cents per plastic bag at some of the island’s leading supermarkets and retail stores, the initiative is getting strong resistance from some customers while some retailers are expressing reservations about implanting the fee.”
In defense of the campaign, organizer of the scheme and advocacy director of the Future Centre Trust, Kammie Holder, pleaded then with Barbadians to get on board and stop complaining. He argued that there are already businesses in Barbados where plastic bags are not an option and Barbadians readily comply. He further argued that several countries around the world, many of which Barbadians travel to and shop, have the same practice of not bagging in plastic.
The arguments against the use of plastic are extremely strong and valid. The facts speak for themselves and I believe more of these facts need to be elaborated and explained to the widest audience possible. Posted on the “No to Plastic Bags” campaign’s Facebook page are some very graphic videos and other content highlighting the extremely negative impact plastic is having on nature and the creatures of the wild. In a video recently shared from the Barbados Sea Turtle Project, the horrifying death of a sea turtle was shown. This video was captioned: “This seriously ill green turtle was rescued and taken to the vet. It died before it could be treated. There was a significant amount of plastic in his intestines.”
I wrote about the natural world around us in my last column. It is that world that we destroy by our incessant use, misuse and discarding of plastic and other waste. Consider these facts, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic trash than fish. Half of the plastic made we use just once and throw out, choking our seas and all the animals in it. 100 MILLION plastic bottles are thrown away every day, choking our oceans in plastic waste.
I recently had my first opportunity to take a tour on the Atlantis Submarine. The beauty that lies beneath the seas that surround us is spectacular. That beauty, however, is interrupted, spoilt and polluted by the plastic waste I saw trapped among the coral. I couldn’t believe that at such a depth, plastic waste could be found. Clearly destroying the precious eco-system of our beautiful waters.
As one global campaigner puts it:“No matter where we live, each breath we take connects us to our oceans. Most of our oxygen is generated by them. They regulate our climate and weather, turn water into clouds that give us rain. And oceans provide a home for near 80% of all living things on earth. We can’t live without our oceans. But now, our oceans can’t live without us. Humans have destroyed ocean health and we need to fix it. Our community has fought fiercely to protect magnificent rainforests and vast areas of our oceans. Now time is running out to kill plastic pollution before it kills us.”
It is this type of information that we need to make the public aware of. Shock and awe and hopefully it will drive Barbadians to action and positively respond I believe and support the initiative. I also expect that it will take some time for the practice to become acceptable and widespread. It is a culture that we need to change.
And like most other required changes, changes in cultural habits and practices are hard to adopt in the beginning. My wife started to recycle and sort the trash at home. Once a week, the recycling company comes to our neighborhood and picks up these recyclables. I had to get used to that because, for me, it was convenient to just throw everything in one bag and put in the garbage can. Let someone else deal with the problem.
For Barbadians, it is a culture to shop and have our items bagged. Challenging this culture means carrying a reusable bag to put items in. Or is it? As Kammie Holder rightfully pointed out, some businesses came to Barbados and successfully started out with a no bag policy and Barbadians still patronized them.
My neighbour among the columns here in Barbados TODAY, Grenville Phillips II, founder of Solutions Barbados, proudly announced in his column last week that he would not be patronizing a particular supermarket for the rest of his life because they charged him for the plastic bags.
His beef was why charge him for a bag that advertises the business. I suspect that once the campaign to eradicate plastic becomes widespread, his choices of places to shop that don’t charge him will diminish.
Daily in my career, I face the responses resulting from asking customers to either pay for a bag or walk with one. These responses have ranged from gentle compliance to robust opposition, sometimes in words not possible to be repeated in respectable places. The argument like the one used by Grenville Phillips has also been made.
I believe the argument is not lost on the ears of retailers and I have been told that these bags with advertising cost more than the 15 cents charged. In reality, the whole exercise is to get Barbadians into the habit of reusable bags so that eventually all these plastic bags with advertising will be discontinued.
The other argument is why only attack plastic shopping bags, when so much other plastic is brought into the country. The proponents of the campaign will have to speak to this. I suspect it is a case of starting somewhere and pushing on. Perhaps plastic shopping bags are the low hanging fruits which can be easily picked before moving up the tree.
Others have argued that biodegradable plastic bags are the norm so why worry. Honestly, I was of the same opinion until I read the research that biodegradable plastic leaves residue that eventually ends up destroying our fragile environment.
Others countries have successfully managed to get plastic waste reduced. I believe we too can do so. Just like giving birth is painful (and only a woman who has given birth can tell you how painful that is) but the end result is a beautiful baby, so too is change for the better. We go through the pangs of discomfort to have something more wholesome evolve.
The campaign needs to go into a super information drive. Bring Barbadians on board by sensitizing them to the facts that if they don’t change, the outcome that faces us all is a disaster. Use the 15 cents collected per bag that the retailers are giving to the campaign, to do more public awareness! Let us all support the campaign and eradicate plastic waste!
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)