Stakeholders affected by the April 1 ban on petro-based, single-use plastics have expressed concern about the safety of the alternatives.
During the final town hall meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre (LESC), environmentalists and distributors aired their grievances about Government’s implementation of the ban and also the feasibility of a no-plastic Barbados.
The town hall meeting was led by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Esworth Reid, green energy advocate Mark Hill, marine biologist, and sustainability consultant, Nikola Simpson; Thora Lorde of the Project Management Coordination Unit and Najla King.
Among the scores of business representatives and civil society organisations present, Trinidadian plastics manufacturer Barry Fakoory indicated that some of the biodegradable alternatives on the market would come at the cost of harming the environment. He outlined that “bioplastic is not biodegradable”. He said that some of the chemicals, such as fluorine, used in the alternative “environmentally-friendly” products were capable of polluting the water source and the food supply as well. Fakoory claimed that some certified companies have been taking advantage of the region’s lack of testing facilities and they have been adding chemicals in their shipments to the Caribbean.
“These chemicals are a serious issue because they have bioaccumulated themselves so when we talk about . . . it is just biogas in water and it disappears, no it doesn’t disappear. These same chemicals are entering our water and entering our fish,” Fakoory emphasized.
The Trinidadian manufacturer stressed that bioplastic should not be considered as the definitive alternative to plastics. He stated that it was internationally recognized that the biggest problem in the Caribbean was littering and waste disposal. He suggested that a change in behavioral practices would be a step in the right direction.
“You are not going to fix a problem by substituting a next problem. It needs to be changing habits. The European Union, they have already said it is not about biodegradability but it is about recyclability. You bring more fossil fuels in alternative products than you use in the plastic products. If you recycle your plastic products, you turn your plastics into a resource,” he contended.
Also joining the discussion on the toxicity of alternative or natural-based products was former head of the Barbados Water Authority’s (BWA) Wastewater Division, Patricia Inniss who urged Barbadian scientists to contribute to the research of alternative options given the dangers of some of the products
“There is a danger of substituting a stable plastic which is not being used properly to a more unstable plastic . . . of the sort where there is the exposure [to chemicals]and we do not want that,” she said.
“Additives are breaking down, they are not biodegrading. They are not turning the carbons into carbon and hydrogen, they are only degrading. So if we substitute one and put another that is still only going to degrade, we have done nothing.
There are persons in Barbados who can help. We cannot afford to run from the frying pan and jump into the fire,” she argued.
However, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy and Kirk Humphrey urged the stakeholders not to jump on the bandwagon and dismiss the alternative products. He reminded them that out of the eight categories of bio-based alternatives, only two products with fluorine amounts of 100 parts per million were accepted. Fluorine is used in many products such as toothpaste and food wrappers.