Stakeholders in industries affected by the ban on petro-based plastics are unanimously in favor of protecting the environment, but they’re questioning a lack of thoughtfulness on the part of Government on the ban’s implementation, which is set to take effect in just over a month.
During a town hall meeting on the controversial topic, business people and consumers who have been using the petro-based products for decades went head to head with Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey who has been championing the ban.
Aside from a lack of workable replacements, some business people say not even the July 1 extension recently announced by Government would be enough to save their stock.
And while Humphrey was open to robust dialogue with stakeholders, the determined Minister has remained steadfast in his bid to make Barbados a global leader in environmental friendliness.
“I feel that if we’re going to insert ourselves into the world conversation in a serious way, we have to be very serious in Barbados as well. We have a responsibility to our children to do not what is convenient, but what is right,” said Humphrey while addressing dozens at the Graydon Sealy Secondary School, in Paddock Road, St Michael.
Late last month, he announced that after meeting with vendors and retailers, an extension would be granted to allow them to exhaust existing stock by July 1. Petro-based single-use plastic cups; cutlery including plastic knives, forks and spoons; stirrers; straws; plates; egg trays (both plastic and styrofoam); and styrofoam containers used in the culinary retail industry will all be prohibited.
Chris Maloney, an egg producer was among a number of people who anticipated tremendous losses from the ban. He blames a lack of clarity on the “specifics of the ban” for the loss of 12,000 styrofoam boxes, which have already been ordered.
“They are completely branded, contain nutritional information, barcoded etc. The specifics of the ban were not released until early this year and I was kind of waiting to see what the outcome of the single-use would be because I have a return deposit on my egg boxes,” he said, while arguing that his banned product was not a single-use plastic and could be recycled.
“The product is here and this is by no means a proposal to continue to import that because I have a recurring deposit and I very much believe in what we are doing and I’m all for it. But the details of transition are often what we have to consider. Come July 1, I am going to have 12,000 styrofoam boxes to do what with? Not even use once?” he asked, while revealing that he had already sourced an alternative.
Other distributors told the packed auditorium that in some cases specialty products common in industries like hospitality would be left stuck on their shelves. Shelly Lashley of SLM distributors suggested that the already implemented ban on the importation of single-use plastics was enough and stressed that eventually distributors and vendors would exhaust their stock, removing the need for a ban on the use of the products.
In a firm response, Humphrey revealed that the new date for the ban was determined based on feedback from distributors, adding that Government would not be “moving the goal post” on the issue.
“If they can use it without it being banned, who is to stop a man from slipping it into the country. If a man knows he can use it, you open the possibility for it to be here on the streets,” argued Humphrey.
In response to concerns about the price, popular local filmmaker and rum shop owner, Rommel Hall argued that duties should be scrapped for the environmentally-friendly alternatives.
“There is no vendor or distributor in here who is against saving the environment. Everyone wants to have their children’s children living on planet earth. But for me, I think we need to remove the VAT (Value Added Tax) from the items and really get that price point down, because it does make a difference to the vendors and the distributors. I used to pay 20 cents per container and now I pay around 55 cents per container and yes, it does seem small, but it does affect my bottomline,” he said.
To this, Minister Humphrey suggested the development of locally grown alternatives to single-use plastic.
“I feel we have the opportunity to talk about an indigenous home-grown business that allows young people now to be able to convert some of these Polylactic Acid’s (PLA) and be able to either reuse it, recycle it or use it for some other reason,” suggested the minister.
The outlook was not altogether gloomy as owner of Carlton and A1 Supermarkets Andrew Bynoe indicated that he supported the ban and predicted that the transition would be flawless.
“I would like to say that there is no need for a further extension,” he argued in a brief contribution to the debate.