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SVG to put an end to single use plastic shopping bags

SVG to put an end to single use plastic shopping bags
A single use plastic shopping bag

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The importation, distribution, sale and use of single use plastic bags and certain plastic food containers will be completely banned in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) by January 2021.

Luke Browne, the minister of health, wellness and the environment made the announcement this week during a ministerial statement in the House of Assembly.

The minister said that he signed a statutory rule and order on Monday titled “The Environmental Health Control of Disposable Plastics Regulations 2019”, which sets a future date for when the importation and local sale of single use plastic shopping bags and certain plastic containers will be prohibited.

“As such, according to section 3 of the regulations that are being put in place, a person shall not (a) import disposable plastic shopping bags from the first day of March 2020 or (b) disposable plastic food service containers from the first day of August 2020 and a person shall not distribute, sell or use (a)disposable shopping bags from the first day of August 2020 or (b) disposable goof containers from the first day of January 2021,” Browne said.

SVG to put an end to single use plastic shopping bags
Luke Browne, the minister of health, wellness and the environment

He noted that the government has been making an environmental thrust, which can be seen from the recent ban on the use of styrofoam containers.

Browne said that this ban has allowed the country to “breathe a sigh of relief” as evidence shows a dramatic reduction in pollution levels.

The environment minister added that this ban is a further step to reduce pollution of the streets, drains and landfills.

“From a strict environmental perspective, we would have preferred to bring the prohibition into effect immediately however these timelines were carefully considered and calibrated with four goals in mind,” he said.

These goals are: to allow importers to complete existing contracts and to give them time to source alternative bags or containers; to provide sufficient time for local suppliers to exhaust existing stocks of bags and containers; to afford local plastic bag manufacturers the opportunity to retool their processes to produce more environmentally friendly alternative products; and to ensure ample opportunity to sensitise the general public about the environmental impact of single use plastics and the availability of more sustainable alternatives to those products.

Browne said the government of SVG has held consultations with major supermarkets, retailers and local manufacturers of plastic bags.

He also said that they have taken time to understand the role of plastic bags, which sometimes includes its use as garbage bags in home, providing an income for vendors at produce and fish markets and as a form of employment for Vincentians who work with plastic bag manufacturers.

And the minister noted that the ban on single use plastic bags does not prohibit all types of plastic bags.

“Plastic containers remain an important and necessary part of life, production and commerce in St Vincent and the Grenadines and around the world. As such, the SR&O makes clear that a number of plastic bags are still permissible in the country including bread bags, bags used to contain fresh fish, garbage bags, bags that hold seedlings or young plants, bags used to hold or dispose medicinal products, disposable bags made of biodegradable materials and others,” Browne said.

He also said that “we have exempted from the ban, those plastic bags that are produced locally for export purposes. Our local manufacturers of plastic bags enjoy a brisk trade with countries in the region that have not take the decision to ban plastic containers. Those products can continue to be produced for export, however they cannot be sold or distributed locally”.

Browne, in his ministerial statement said that plastics harm the environment in various ways which include blocking drains and increasing vulnerability to flooding during extreme weather conditions.

He said that plastics also kill fish and wildlife, pollutes rivers and beaches and damages economic growth through its impact on livelihoods, particularly those in the Fisheries sector.

The minister listed Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia and Grenada among Caribbean countries that have already passed laws or regulations banning various plastics.

“Some bans have not been as comprehensive as the one I am announcing today, while others have gone beyond the scope of our regulation by enacting bans on plastic straws, cups and cutlery,” he said.

Browne added: “Our regulation is tailored to balance between our environmental requirements and the needs and challenges of business sector and consuming public. I expect as alternative products become more prevalent, available and affordable, we will revisit these regulations with a view to further restricting types of disposable plastic products which may be imported or used in St Vincent and the Grenadines”.

The environment minister noted that SVG was among the first to ban styrofoam and he said it is the hope that the restriction on plastic will be met with similar acceptance and adopted to benefit the environmental health of this country.

He further said disposable beverage bottles and their plastic caps were the remaining and largest challenge to pollution in SVG. And he called on the public to consider the environmental health and beauty of the country when they dispose of these bottles.

Browne said the process was not without its challenges but it is a “necessary measure to protect our environment, our livelihoods, our economy and our role as responsible stewards of our precious environmental endowments”.

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