The Plastic Shopping Bag Levy

Any move to reduce the volume of plastics in our environment is a good one. I had hoped the government would have led on this, as my ministry attempted to do, a little late admittedly, in 2016. That way, it would have been a national effort, with a much bigger impact. However it hasn’t, and a corporate entity is now setting policy in the vacuum that exists.

The move by Massy to charge a fee for plastic bags is a concept that is good in intention, but bad in execution. I will not express an opinion on whether the 50 cents charge is fair, since I do not know the price Massy pays for each bag. Hopefully, this is not about cost recovery for Massy, but about environmental responsibility.

Charging for plastic bags in stores is not a Massy invention. It is done in other jurisdictions outside the Caribbean. However, as it stands, Massy is passing a charge on to consumers for the use of plastic bags to package items bought in its stores. This is meant to serve as a deterrent to people using plastic bags. But if Massy is really serious about preserving our environment, it should put some of its own skin in the game. It should state that instead of going into its own ‘consolidated fund’, all the monies collected from this 50 cent plastic bag levy will be put in an Environmental Protection Fund, which will be made available to conservation groups in each island for environmental protection and clean up activities. Better yet, Massy should indicate that as a good corporate citizen, it will match the funds collected with a donation of its own, such as for every $5 collected, Massy will contribute $1 (or more) to the Fund. That way the environmental responsibility becomes a shared one, and not one that Massy has unilaterally imposed on the consumers.

Also, Massy should go further and announce that immediately, it will reduce the volume of plastic and styrofoam that is used to package produce in its stores. I am sure most consumers would not object to choosing which of the loose tomatoes, sweet peppers, string beans, carrots or broccoli they wish to buy, instead of Massy making that choice for them in those plastic pre-packaged units, where the volume of plastic and styrofoam packaging used sometimes approximates the volume of the produce being purchased.

But the onus to reduce plastic pollution should not just be on Massy. This has to be a national effort. Improperly discarded plastics are making our country look dirty and ugly, they are clogging drains and increasing the prospects of flooding, and they are finding their way into our oceans and killing our marine life.

The government has to take the lead on this and bring all stakeholders together, like we started in 2016, and come up with a comprehensive plan to eliminate plastic pollution in our country. This should start with the enactment of a Refundable Containers Bill, which has been delayed for far too long because of a lack of political courage.

It is not too late for Massy to get this right. Neither is it too late for the government to join the battle to reduce plastic pollution. Both need to happen soon.

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