Government has been alerted that alternatives to single use plastic containers should be carefully screened before being introduced to members of the public.
The message comes from an organisation, which fully supports Barbados’ efforts to minimise the use of plastic, but understands the health of citizens is equally important.
On Tuesday, the British High Commission hosted a press conference with the UK Government’s special representative for the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance (CCOA), Stephen Harris ahead of talks with Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey and Minister of the Environment and National Beautification Trevor Prescod.
The CCOA’s mission is to learn more about the challenges facing Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean and assist in the fight to keep oceans and seas clean.
Amid concern about the impact of plastic alternatives on Barbadians’ health, Harris encouraged Government to demand more comprehensive information about the alternative products being imported.
“I think it would be a small tragedy if people do the right thing and found out the consequences of that were going to be damaging in other ways. I think people would feel very let down, if not betrayed if that happens,” said Harris, who admitted the replacement process was often difficult.
“That goes to the point about product information, because this is an issue that has received a media storm of attention over the last couple years. It’s incentivised the production of a whole lot of other alternatives, but those haven’t always come with the degree of information that consumers need. For example, what is biodegradable? What is compostable?” he asked.
July 1 marked the start of Government’s controversial ban on single-use, petro-based plastics, which was implemented ten months after it was announced.
However just ten days into the ban, Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce, Dwight Sutherland revealed replacement biodegradable products tested positive for high levels of fluorine.
Since then, other stakeholders have been questioning the extent to which alternative products break down after being used.
“My version of compostable is material that I can throw into a composter bin and feed to the worms. But actually a lot of compostable material has to be degraded over a long period using industrial cost and temperature facilities. That creates confusion in people’s minds,” said Harris.
“That in my mind, is one of the key roles that regulators can play… Insist on very consistent definitions of different products and what can be done with those products that can help to support the circular economy of products’ generation, use, reuse, disposal in a way that doesn’t lead to a whole lot of leakage into the environment.”
Harris said the environmental challenge was centred on social and business behaviour driven by the demand for more plastic without the necessary capacity to properly discard it.
“It’s a really big problem and my mission is to help raise awareness and help the 53 countries of the Commonwealth to collaborate around measures to try to deal with this problem at its source and as it expresses itself in some of our beautiful waters.
“It’s very hard for people in their daily lives to grasp the enormity of these environmental problems particularly when the cost of these products seem to come before the benefits,” he said.
After leaving Barbados, the CCOA official heads to Antigua and Barbuda and then Kingston, Jamaica to continue the mission.