By RIEL MAJOR
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE six-month transition period for businesses to sell off prohibited single-use plastic bags represents efforts to provide relief to businesses who have made significant financial commitments, according to Ministry of Environment officials.
In an interview with The Tribune, Lyndee Bowe, environmental officer, said the ministry hosted meetings with businesses and discovered some companies paid for containers of inventory months in advance and have unused stock within their warehouses.
Ms Bowe said: "This additional transitionary period was agreed upon by businesses and was granted out of respect for their business model and operations. The selling of compostable plastic bags is commonly practiced with bans worldwide, it also provided an easier transitional switch for businesses who currently use plastics bags being banned as they procure and investigate reusable bag options that best suit their needs.
"Effective June 30, (2020) the fines will come into force. Up to this point businesses will still be allowed to use the plastic bags but won't be allowed to import those bags as of January 1."
She added: "The ministry realised the importance of working alongside businesses on coming up with a transitional plan that will ease their ability to adapt and foster an environment of support and acceptance. We are extremely grateful for all the feedback we are receiving thus far from the general public and the business community."
Ms Bowe said compostable single-use plastic bags will be exempt from this phase of the ban but can be "eventually" phased out.
"This phase of the ban includes four specific items inclusive of the plastic bags," she said. "This ban is set so that eventually we would be able to add certain items as we come along. "These four items were chosen specifically because we have available alternatives ready.
"The typical Bahamian could use these items at least three times a day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner we use these items, so these bags that are included don't have available alternatives and hence they have been excluded by the ban."
She added: "The only bags that are going to be banned are point of sale shopping bags. All of these other plastic bags they are not going to be affected by this phase of the ban. It may be something that we want to look into eventually but at this time it's not included."
If passed, the Environmental Protection (Control of Plastic Pollution) Bill, 2019 will prohibit single-use plastic foodware and non-biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable and biodegradable single-use plastic bags; prohibit the release of balloons; and regulate the use of compostable single-use plastic bags. Single-use plastic foodware outlined in the bill include: Styrofoam cups, plates and other similar Styrofoam foodware used to contain food; plastic knives, forks, spoons and straws.
Businesses will be allowed to sell compostable single-use plastic bags for 25 cents to $1, excluding VAT. Business will not be able to sell these bags to customers at the point of sale, and if they do, the sale of the bag must be separately stated on the receipt and identified as a "checkout bag fee".
Business will be allowed to keep the fees collected for the sale of these bags; however, a record must be kept of the number of bags supplied during the reporting year, along with the gross and net proceeds of the sale. Failure to keep a record is an offence with a fine up to $2,000, and failure to supply a copy of the record to the ministry carries a fine up to $1,000.
Compostable single-use plastic bags will be exempt from the ban along with a number of others based on their intended use like party bags, dry cleaning, food and hardware storage, newspaper deliveries and trash.
While many stores and businesses have phased out plastic and Styrofoam, others are still preparing for the ban. Glenmore Wallace, manager of Sakura Sushi, said the Cable Beach restaurant is one of them.
"The way that I see it, at the end of the day it's going to be something good so we might as well do it. We are trying to be (ready for the deadline) and if we aren't then the decision was to stay close until we fully make the transition," he said.
"We have decided that we don't want to run into any issues. I'm all for the change itself so if we don't get a chance to switch over everything by the deadline, we'll just stay closed for the extra maybe two or three days to make sure we have everything that we need to operate the business."
James Galanis, Twisted Lime owner, said his business is "definitely" ready for the 2020 plastic ban.
He said: "For the most part (the transition is) not hard. I think the government should go even deeper if it affects the country. (We just need) the to-go cups; (we are still using) plastic cups but only because we are trying to use the last.
"We are definitely already ready if it comes down to certain companies not having the right cups. We can use soup cups for the time being…It's not something we can't find to get our way around it."