By Malcolm Strachan
ONE would have had to be living under a rock not to sense the aggravation over the ban on single-use plastics. While no one can doubt the good intentions, the early results show a disjointed rollout of the initiative.
Adjusting has been taxing (no pun intended), to say the least. Citizens have had no shortage of complaints, roundly criticising the additional charge to carry their items out in a plastic bag – a way of life since the early 90s.
To be fair, the ministry of the environment made this announcement in the second quarter of 2018 – a year and a half before the ban came into effect.
At the time, Minister of Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira said: “As it stands now, a significant portion of the waste that we get at the landfill is single use plastics - plastic bags, etc.
“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.”
At the time, Mr Ferreira said the number of plastic bags brought into the country each year by grocery stores stood at a whopping 26 million. For the average Bahamian who may not be the most environmentally conscious, National Geographic breaks down the potential hazards caused by single-use plastics.
Considering the astronomical number of plastic products that escape into the ocean every year – eight billion – much of this is caused by coastal nations like ours, which leads to the deaths of millions of marine animals through choking and starvation due to ingesting micro-plastics.
With pollution rampant throughout New Providence, the challenge to educate the citizenry was clear. Nonetheless, with a year and a half leading up to the January 1, ban, the ministry of the environment had its work cut out.
Last year, the ministry introduced its “Be a Hero” public education campaign to raise awareness and prepare the populace. Yet, less than a week in, adapting to this supposed new era of environmental protection has gotten off to a rocky start as the Bahamian people have been slow to adapt and businesses – much to the dismay of the citizenry - seem to be reaping the benefits hand over fist.
Although, the public was advised to begin stocking up on reusable bags, many of us did not, and thus frustrations mount when shoppers have to tote their items out in boxes, by hand or incur an additional 25 cents charge per bag. And while the cost for an item that was free just over a week ago makes sense to serve as a deterrent, there is much frustration due to businesses exploiting the initiative.
Rather than stocking up on biodegradable options to assist their customers, particularly in the food service industry, businesses are being given the opportunity to make an additional 25 cents to a dollar per plastic bag it sells under the guise of a “catering delivery fee”. This means that businesses can clear out old inventory at a profit, and moreover, with the government’s half-baked approach not resulting in a complete ban which would outlaw businesses from providing them, up to an additional $6.5m (if sold for 25 cents) can be made on the sale of plastic bags annually. And that’s just from grocery stores if we’re looking at the 26 million plastic bags coming into the country every year.
It is understandable why shoppers have had no shortage of complaints, as once again, poor execution has led to confusion and anger.
What was designed to be a progressive initiative is backfiring and the common Bahamian, already facing a heavy tax burden, views the 25 cents charge as merely another form of taxation. Along with VAT and the imminent additional BPL charge, the Bahamian people are being given little headroom.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ assertion that he is focused on the poor could not be more puzzling unless what he meant was keeping the downtrodden in poverty. Likewise, his environmental conscientiousness – a characterisation afforded to him by Minister Ferreira – is also being put to the test with the shoddy rollout of the plastics ban.
As this will no doubt raise more contradictions for the Minnis administration’s defunct “people’s time brand”, options are few. They will likely either lose favour with the business community as a result of moving towards a complete ban – meaning plastic bags will not be allowed to be brought into the country nor will existing inventory be sold for public consumption – or they will have to walk back their lofty ideas and recalibrate its programme to one of regulation – neither of which look good on the administration’s resume.
Whatever the government decides to do, they will have to resign themselves to the fact they have definitely made some crucial errors.
Hopefully, they are able to pivot and fix this, as the negative implications of plastic products are sweeping. Furthermore, our environment is of chief importance to our economic viability and competitiveness as a tourist destination, and as good stewards and world citizens, we must become more responsible.
All that being said, the government has to quickly evaluate the initial stages of this rollout and ensure it does not become another means of the rich profiting off the backs of the poor.