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Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Daryl Vaz (2nd right), is presented with a reusable tote bag by Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), Metry Seaga, during a recent press conference to provide an update on the ban of single-use plastics and polystyrene (Styrofoam) products at Jamaica House. Looking on are Government Senator, Matthew Samuda (2nd left), and Chief Executive Officer, National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) Peter Knight.
Photo: Yhomo Hutchinson

Story Highlights

  • As local retailers prepare to restock their inventories in compliance with the Government’s ban on single-use plastic bags and straws, and polystyrene (Styrofoam), several enterprises are exploring wide-ranging packaging alternatives.
  • These include: cardboard boxes, paper bags, and reusable shopping/tote bags made from canvas, cotton, nylon and other durable material.
  • On January 1, the Government imposed a ban on plastic bags of dimensions 24” x 24”, along with disposable plastic straws and polystyrene food and beverage containers.

As local retailers prepare to restock their inventories in compliance with the Government’s ban on single-use plastic bags and straws, and polystyrene (Styrofoam), several enterprises are exploring wide-ranging packaging alternatives.

These include: cardboard boxes, paper bags, and reusable shopping/tote bags made from canvas, cotton, nylon and other durable material.

On January 1, the Government imposed a ban on plastic bags of dimensions 24” x 24”, along with disposable plastic straws and polystyrene food and beverage containers.

There measure, which covers the importation, manufacture and distribution of these items, is being phased in between 2019 to 2021.

Although the new regulations will require a period of adjustment by retailers, there has been general support for the initiative by suppliers and distributors across various sectors.

Retailers are making provisions to ensure that alternatives are available to facilitate this environmentally conscious thrust by the Government.

Manager of Golden Grocery Limited, Carolyn Yapp, tells JIS News that her establishment is making the necessary adjustments to provide shoppers with several packaging alternatives.

“We have the reusable fabric bags for sale at cost. Whatever we buy them for, we sell at the same price… we are not making anything on them. We have given some away for Christmas and the remainder will be for sale. We just want the customers to have it and to be encouraged to fold them up and bring them in their handbags and pockets when they come back,” she says, pointing out that the establishment also provides cardboard boxes and paper bags.

Mrs. Yapp is hopeful that shoppers will travel with their reusable bags and make the transition to using them in order to eventually eliminate the use of paper bags, which she says are up to four times as expensive to manufacture as plastic bags.

“Change is difficult. But I am hoping they will eventually get used to using reusable bags, because we don’t want to be using paper bags indefinitely. We are hoping that people will be weaned off non-reusables eventually,” she adds.

While acknowledging that it will take some effort to get persons accustomed to using alternatives to plastic, Mrs. Yapp contends that “other countries have done it and are doing it… [so] we will manage; we are Jamaicans… we are adaptable”.

Food outlets have also been extensively preparing for the ban’s implementation.

The management of Restaurants Associates Limited, operator of the popular food fast food franchises, Burger King, Popeye’s, Louisiana Chicken and Little Caesars Pizza, is retooling operations in accordance with the new regulations.

Purchasing Manager, Rohan McNamee, tells JIS News the company will be replacing the packaging inventory across their restaurants with biodegradable alternatives.

“The company has invested in a machine that manufactures bags. We plan to manufacture the paper bags in-house for our own use as well as, possibly, for distribution. We are far advanced in plans to install the machine at our warehouse…to incorporate the production of bags for all the brands. We will have the capacity to produce excess for other users,” he says.

This undertaking is slated to come on stream in within four months, with paper bags being acquired through outsourcing in the interim.

Additionally, Mr. McNamee says the company intends to phase out the use of plastic spoons, forks, cups and straws and replace them with 100 per cent biodegradable alternatives.

“We are doing our due diligence in investigating the composition to ensure the products are right, because we realize there are products that [manufacturers claim] are made from certain materials… but they may not be fit for use in terms of the food safety requirements,” he points out.

Mr. McNamee, who advises that the company is still conducting extensive research on those, indicates that the management expect that “by the end of 2020, we should have an expanded list of products replacing plastic with paper”.

Additionally, he says the entity is endeavouring “to be fully compliant with the Government’s policy”.

Mr. McNamee, who endorses the ban, describes the decision as “an excellent idea and a welcome move by the Government to protect the environment”.

He argues that that although it is not expected to be an overnight culture shift, it is nonetheless “a step in the right direction”.

Meanwhile, the operator of the KFC and Pizza Hut franchises, Restaurants of Jamaica (RoJ), supports the initiative.

In a press release, Managing Director, Mark Myers, welcomes the new policy and indicates that the company is making preparations for its implementation.

“This is a great time for Jamaica, and it is encouraging, as a business owner, to see measures being taken that look at the long term [benefits] for our country. We are in full support and will continue to support initiatives which protect our environment,” he states.

Clothing retailers are similarly replacing their inventory of plastic bags with paper and reusable bags.

Director of Maxie Department Store, Marlene Williams, says the entity is increasing its stock of reusable bags and wrapping paper, adding that paper bags are to be provided as packaging options for customers.

“We have started to make orders to increase the production of the existing (reusable) bags we had, as well as getting different sizes. So orders are still out there. We still have some plastic bags in stock that as soon as [they are] finished, we will no longer use them,” she says.

Ms. Williams encourages the public to support the initiative by getting into the habit of travelling with reusable bags.

Stakeholder sensitization engagements on the policy have included meetings with several affected sector groupings.

They include the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA); Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) and National Consumers League of Jamaica; as well as individual manufacturers, importers and distributors; and service clubs.