What are single-use plastics?
According to plasticfreechalle..., single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging.
“Petroleum-based plastic is not biodegradable and usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or it gets into the water and finds it’s way into the ocean,” the website states.
“Although plastic will not biodegrade – decompose into natural substance like soil – it will break down into tiny particles after many years. In the process of breaking down, it releases toxic chemicals, additives that were used to shape and harden the plastic, which make their way into our food and water supply.”
In light of the devastating effect of these products on the environment and people’s health, countries around the world have moved to ban them and encourage the use of alternatives.
According to the UK’s The Guardian, cotton buds, plastic drinking straws and other single-use plastics could be banned from sale in England next year in the next phase of the campaign to try to halt the pollution of the world’s rivers and oceans.
By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
ENVIRONMENT and Housing Minister Romauld Ferreira yesterday officially announced his ministry's initiative to ban single-use plastics and Styrofoam in the country by January 1, 2020 - a move he said would have a significant impact on waste at the New Providence Landfill.
Mr Ferreira also spoke about the long-term health and environment impacts from single-use plastics - such as disposable utensils, straws and shopping bags - and Styrofoam, which contribute to street and ocean litter as well as health disorders when chemicals from these products are leached into food.
Speaking at a press conference held at the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce, Mr Ferreira said the first round of public consultations on the ban is projected to start at the end of April. A memorandum of understanding was also signed between the minster and Chamber of Commerce yesterday.
The target deadline for the required legislation is August this year.
The ministry is also working on making the release of balloons into the air illegal, as these contribute to ocean pollution.
This initiative is being hailed as "the first step towards developing a national waste management strategy for The Bahamas".
When asked how much of an impact the ban would have on the current state of the landfill, Mr Ferreira said it would be very significant. He also added progress has been made on the selection of a new operator of the landfill, with hopes to make an announcement by June.
"As it stands now, a significant portion of the waste that we get at the landfill is single use plastics-- plastic bags, etc," he said.
"So in terms of its significance, once we get to the point where we could significantly reduce it coming into the country, then we would have significantly reduced the amount of waste we generate for that category."
In terms of the impact on businesses that rely on the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam, as well as local distributors of these products, the ministry believes this will ultimately be a "win-win" situation.
According to officials, the ministry will conduct two rounds of public consultations with restaurants, hotels and retail outlets.
Feedback gathered will "assist the ministry in developing an alternative list that meets the demand and needs of businesses".
With grocery stores bringing in an estimated 26 million plastic bags a year, the ban is predicted to help businesses save money while also giving local "creatives" the opportunity to help develop alternatives.
Mr Ferreira added this is why the ban is a "great opportunity for the creation of jobs," specifically calling out to artists, straw vendors, and creatives.
He invited them to "redesign the traditional croker sack bags and add some Androsia and a dash of our native straw".
Furthermore, the ministry is working with the Customs Department and Ministry of Finance to "outline the correct protocol to reduce taxes on approved alternatives and to improve incentives for business operations".
The public is expected to be involved through two rounds of public consultations, which includes town hall meetings and visiting businesses and schools.
Additionally, Mr Ferreira announced a logo competition for students ages 13-18. The goal is to create a logo that represents the plastic bag and Styrofoam initiative.
All entrees are to be submitted via email by 8pm on June 4. The competition's flyer will be shared on the Ministry of Enviroment's Facebook page and through the media.
Officials say the upcoming ban will have positive impacts on local health and tourism.
According to Bahamas Plastic Movement, if the rate of plastic pollution on beaches increases, it could cost up to $8.5m annually in tourism losses for the country.
Mr Ferreira pointed out the dangers of these products on human health.
"When used in microwaves, Styrofoam releases fluorocarbons into the air and several other poisonous gases are absorbed into whatever food item it contains.
"Additionally, ordinary heat from the food or drink releases these toxins into the contents of the Styrofoam containers."
Adverse health effects from this chemical leaching include irritation of the gastrointestinal system, skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract, Mr Ferreira said.
Long-term health issues include minor effects on kidney function and menstrual cycles of women.
Mr Ferreira also added that people eventually end up eating their own plastics.
"Plastic and Styrofoam (don't) decompose," he said. "They break down into much smaller micro-pieces which are often mistaken for food by birds, turtles, and fish.
"Plastic contamination is passed up through the food chain, accumulating from prey to predator and ultimately culminating in humans. Now, we have come full cycle and find ourselves eating our own plastic waste."
Furthermore, these products "remain as litter along our streets, pollute our waters, clog our sewerage pipes and drainage systems for 500-1000 years."
The environment minister cited Haiti, Guyana, Dominica, Zimbabwe and Kenya as countries that have all made similar strides in recent years. He added Jamaica also has a motion before Parliament to ban plastic bags.
Mr Ferreira also added The Bahamas will become a signatory to the Clean Seas Campaign which was launched by the United Nations in January 2017.