Super Value owner Rupert Roberts said the government needs to “abolish” a recently implemented fee on plastic bags, and warned that public anger over the issue could follow the Minnis administration into the next election.
“Abolish the charge,” Roberts told The Nassau Guardian.
“And I think government should really do it because I’m afraid this is going to follow them right to the ballot box. The public are angry and [the new year] is the wrong time to make the public angry.
“You know, right after peace on earth and happy new year, to make the whole country angry at a single plastic bag is going to cost them — government — if they don’t change it.”
He said the government should have given businesses six months to get rid of the plastic bags they have in stock without making customers pay a fee.
Legislation banning single-use plastics came into effect on January 1, 2020.
The Environmental Protection (Control of Plastic Pollution) Act, 2019 outlines that businesses have until June 30, 2020 to possess prohibited items such as plastic bags on the condition that the items are sold to customers at a fee no less than 25 cents and no more than $1, excluding value-added tax.
Many consumers have taken issue with the charge for plastic bags, calling it a tax, notwithstanding the fact that the government is not collecting the money from merchants.
Some shoppers feel offended that they are being charged for bags they once got for free.
Officials from the Ministry of Environment have said the fee is intended to discourage members of the public from using the plastic bags.
Roberts said his store is seeing significant pushback to the ban.
He said some customers have been “rambunctious” and have “valiantly resisted” the new plastic bag fee.
“They say, ‘It was free. It was always free; it should stay free,’” said Roberts, who is secretary of the Retail Grocers Association.
“And, of course, we agree with them and we think all government has to do is ban plastic (without the charge) and this problem would’ve taken care of itself.”
He added, “I’ll tell you what my wife says: ‘I won’t pay you one penny for a plastic bag.’ You know, that is the attitude of the consumer.
“It’s not the price. I think if it was one cent, I think you’d have the pushback because they were free. Why should you pay for it now?”
Super Value spent about $3 million annually to import about 40 million plastic bags, according to Roberts, who has 13 stores.
However, in preparation for the single-use plastics ban, Roberts said, the company has significantly cut down the number of bags imported.
“We also knew that selling the bags, you’re not going to use as many,” he said.
“So, instead of 40 million, half of that for six months was going to be 20 million. We cut that in half and said 10 million, but then we said we don’t want to be short, so we amended it to 12 million to last us six months…”
Roberts continued, “Now, if we sell bags, we get $500 a case, which is ludicrous to charge the customer $500 for something we were charging zero.”
Roberts described the fee as an “overkill”.
In August, Roberts praised the government’s attempts to become more environmentally friendly with the ban on single-use plastics.
However, he pointed out in his recent interview with The Nassau Guardian that the bags really are not single-use bags.
“These bags were not one-use bags,” Roberts said.
“These bags were used over and over. I’ve never thrown away a bag. I reused plastic bags myself for 25 years over and over, never throwing one away.
“And, you know, the housewife goes from taking the groceries to using for other purposes and then they’re going to the trash can liner.
“And so, these bags are not one use; they get a lot of use out of them. I mean, I use them from all through the office, from the office to the car, car to my workshop and then eventually trash goes in them or something.”