By SYANN THOMPSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS National Trust Executive Director Eric Carey wants Bahamians to see the bigger picture regarding the single use plastic ban, noting it is meant to protect the environment and Bahamian way of life.
Mr Carey told The Tribune he understands the public’s frustration with paying for plastic bags, but stressed Bahamians should have a long-term perspective on the issue.
“Since the environmental regulations and initiatives were put in place, there is an outcry because people don’t like things being taken away from them or restrictions being placed on them. So, I understand the psyche and I certainly understand the response of some of the people. But we need to look beyond the 25 cents and look towards the bigger picture. Our very way of life is threatened, and we need to do all we can as a people to support it,” said Mr Carey.
A ban on single use plastic bags, food utensils, straws and Styrofoam food containers came into effect on January 1. Although the plan was announced in early 2018, when the ban went into effect last week, there was immediate pushback, particularly over the fee of 25 cent to $1 a merchant can charge a customer for a plastic bag under the new law.
Some view the plastic bag fee as a tax, but environment officials have said the charge is meant to discourage consumers from using plastic bags, choosing reusable bags instead.
“The logic behind the purpose for including the charge for the plastic bags is simple, it is to discourage people from using the plastic bags,” Mr Carey said. “Hopefully if it will trigger people before leaving home remember ‘I have to take my reusable bags or pay 25 cents,’ so the purpose of the charge is to disincentivise people from wanting to pay for those plastic bags.
“Research has shown that countries who have banned it and put in place a charge to discourage people, there was a rapid decline in the use of the plastic bags and a switch to using the reusable shopping bags. It think it is a very simple deterrent mechanism the government wanted to put in place so that people would realise, instead of going to the supermarket and paying for eight, nine, 10, 12 or how many some people come out with 30 or 40 of those plastic bags.”
Stressing the need for Bahamians to become environmentally conscious, Mr Carey explained that climate change is connected to plastic bags due to their toxicity and disruption in the marine environment.
“. . .If there is one thing we need to do more of, we need to intensify the education efforts to make Bahamians aware of the real threat climate change poses to the Bahamian environment, the Bahamian way of life to the very existence of these islands. The Bahamas is one of the most vulnerable countries on the planet, most vulnerable on the planet to the effects of climate change including sea level rise. There is irrefutable evidence that sea levels are rising, and they are going to continue to rise. We need to do what we can as a species on this planet to try and reverse and minimise the impact on the environment, we need to try and reduce as much as we can, greenhouse gases CO2 emissions,” said Mr Carey.
Research shows that even when disposed of properly, plastic still releases toxins into landfills and oceans.
“We need to keep things like plastics out of the landfills, out of fires and we need to keep them out of the ocean because they pollute the ocean, they kill coral reefs, they break down into micro-plastics and they are consumed by fish and then those fish are consumed by humans and it is a direct negative impact on human health. There are so many things that plastics are contributing to that we need to try and reduce and eventually eliminate,” said Mr Carey.
Stores in the United Kingdom are mandated by law to charge five pence or more for a plastic bag. These stores are expected to donate the money to charity. According to the BBC, £66m was donated to good causes in the year 2016-17.
To date, England’s largest retailers selling plastic bags have dropped to 90 percent since the plastic bag charge came into effect in 2015. The UK’s next phase of banning plastics —eliminating the use of plastic straws, coffee stirrers and cotton buds — begins in April 2020.