For more than a year, Barbadians have had to wean themselves off plastic bags. In another two months, our divorce from single-use plastics will become final.
From April 1, the importation, retail, sale and use of petroleum-based single-use products – plastic cups, knives, forks, spoons, stirrers, straws, plates and Styrofoam containers – will be banned.
The few exemptions include the packaging of pharmaceuticals/medicines, hygiene and food preservation.
A moratorium has been extended on the use of Tetra Pak straws, while poultry producers have been given more time to find alternatives to the Styrofoam trays used to package chicken.
Admittedly, the verdict is still out on the effect of the imposition of the ten cents plastic bag fee at supermarkets aimed at curbing our love affair with plastics, but there’s really no reason to turn back on this inevitable move to protect our island ecology.
Plastics, though convenient, are ubiquitous. There is little doubt that plastic products are harmful to our environment.
They litter our roads and open spaces, clog our drains, clutter our beaches, fill up our landfills, and choke reefs, fish, marine organisms and wildlife.
Environmentalists have warned us that our consumption patterns are creating a potential time bomb for future generations.
Already, 90 per cent of the debris in our oceans is plastic. Scientists have also cautioned us that plastic does not simply disappear; it breaks into tiny pieces that we cannot see and often contaminate our waterways and enter the food chain when digested by animals.
And plastics are forever.
Our relentless use of plastic does us no good and it’s high time we’d begin to eliminate this blight on our environment.
It makes sense to shift to safer replacements like paper bags, cloth bags, cardboard boxes or biodegradable food containers.
As Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey noted yesterday, the cost of continuing to use these things in Barbados will outweigh any potential benefits.
A number of our Caribbean island neighbours have already banned single-use plastics. It is not an overreach for Barbados to follow suit.
Of course, it would be foolhardy to expect that the plastic ban will completely end littering and entirely prevent plastics from winding up in our waterways and ocean.
We know it won’t save the life of every single sea turtle or fish that ingests plastic, nor will it reverse climate change. Yet, to do others is subject bequeath ecological apocalypse to our children and theirs.
We hope that Humphrey and his ministerial counterpart, Minister of Environment Trevor Prescod, will focus on public education. We take note that consultations have already been held with key stakeholders groups. But there’s much work to be done to end this island’s love affair with plastic.
It is unlikely that the transition will be problem-free.
For starters, those businesses that have stocked plastics and Styrofoam products are bound to suffer losses. They will need to make a quick transition to avoid financial and job peril. Government ought to consider assisting them in retooling their operations.
Switching to recyclable and other alternatives may cost local businesses higher overheads in the short run. But this is a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to unleash their creativity and create packaging, cups and plates from local products, including palm leaves, sugar cane, banana leaves and coconut fibre. Hopefully, these locally-sourced alternatives might keep the anticipated price hikes to a minimum.
And where the local market cannot meet the demand, Government can provide incentives for businesses to import these new packaging materials in the short term.
Changing behaviour isn’t easy but this time, it’s necessary.
And indeed, the changes we really need go beyond a mere plastics ban.
Truly protecting our environment requires an individual commitment to address the impact of our lifestyles on our surroundings now and for decades to come.
But it needs to start with a life free of plastic.