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The price of environmental protection


Among the matters raised and discussed at the sitting of the House of Assembly on Tuesday was the ban imposed by the Government on the importation of styrofoam food containers and the stipulation that bio-degradable food containers be used instead. The reason for taking this action was spelt out in the Budget address of 2017 and is based on the damage to the environment, arising from the use and wanton disposal of the containers.

The problem is one not confined to St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is a matter which is being raised in countries big and small, on which a number of countries have already taken action, some imposing much more stringent regulations than in our case. The ban is a natural result of growing environmental consciousness and the role that citizens of this world have to play in keeping with our international commitments. There are those among us, however, who are not in favour of such bans. They argue that this action alone would not solve our environmental challenges and that all we end up doing is creating inconveniences and difficulties, especially for those in the food and hospitality sectors.

One can extend this argument to other areas as well. For instance, calls have been made for Government to stop sand mining at Brighton beach on the same environmental grounds. Some years ago, under the government of Sir James Mitchell, there was some uproar when the mining of sand from our beaches was forbidden and white sand imported from Guyana instead. In the same way there are those locals who do not accept the ban on the hunting of turtles.

The crux of the matter is that there is a cost to everything. Those in the food industry point to increased costs for obtaining and using the bio-degradable containers, which adds to the cost of their final product and possible negative repercussions on sales and hence earnings. This may be true depending on sources, but it is indisputable that the continued use of styrofoam has negative consequences for environment and country. We cannot look at the matter narrowly or selfishly; wider national and social considerations must be borne in mind.

This is where the role of dialogue comes in as a crucial factor in finding solutions acceptable to all. There are several administrative and financial inducements to enable transformation of our commercial relations to a more environmentally-friendly base, ensuring a win-win scenario for all concerned. But above all, the critical factor in seeking to respect our environment and international and regional commitments made in this regard is the question of public education. We have a very long way to go in this direction, in getting our people as a whole to understand the wider consequences of pursuing short-term gain at the expense of long-term, and in many cases permanent environmental damage. That lack of understanding can only lead to a failure to willingly accept the need for change in a positive direction. That change cannot come just by diktat; there must be persuasion which leads to commitment. Every such initiative has a price, but it also has rewards.