We love to bellyache about government policy after it becomes law instead of demanding more transparency during the law-making process.
A vivid example of this is the kerfuffle about single-use plastic bags. For starters, the government should be applauded for doing its part, no matter how tiny, to reduce global warming.
We can’t complain about monster hurricanes then sit on our hands.
It is also admirable to see the government act in unison with our CARICOM partners to try and improve the health and sustainability of our oceans – the central nervous system of all our economies.
That said, there are aspects of the new ban on plastics that represent a good start but need to go further, and other aspects that just make no sense.
The law stopped the importation of single-use plastics from the first of this year.
Merchants are given six months to deplete their existing stocks and to do so, they can charge any fee they want ranging from 25 cents to $1 per bag.
Interestingly, the law set no fee for things like plastic straws and styrofoam used by the food service industry. But just who gets the 25 cents per bag? Does it go to the merchant, to an environmental fund or straight to the treasury?
While we are not the highest at 25 cents, it bears noting that Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago charge seven U.S. cents per bag and Jamaica, whose ban came in a year ago, used to charge about 40 U.S. cents per bag.
We have further madness where one food store chain is selling single-use bags in bulk for $75 for a pack of 2,000 which is about three cents per bag. But if at the cash register you want a single-use bag to haul the bulk purchase bags away, it will cost you 25 cents.
Make no mistake, this is a good start for The Bahamas and the effort must not stop here or in July when the honeymoon period expires.
Inside of single-use plastic bags we transport meats and dairy products wrapped completely in plastic; fruits and vegetables in single-use plastic bags as well as an assortment of other food items and sundry goods.
At the dry cleaners, clothes are still protected in single-use plastic and we will still be allowed to haul away our waste in plastic garbage bags.
Instead of acting helpless, merchants can assist their customers by reverting to paper bags (carbon heavy to produce but they breakdown easily in landfills) or, as they do in Jamaica, recycle cardboard boxes by giving them to shoppers for free.
Single-use plastics make up less than 10 percent of the typical landfill, but a disproportionate amount of them end up in the ocean where they don’t break down, harming fish and marine life.
But let’s get serious.
Cloth bags and reinforced plastic bags may sound like viable alternatives, but they do more environmental damage because of the higher carbon emissions required to make them.
One study found that consumers would have to use a cloth bag 131 times before it had a smaller carbon footprint than a single-use plastic bag.
One alternative whose time may have come is straw bags, made with native sustainable straw and sisal (not the imported fake stuff). This has a much smaller carbon footprint than cloth or hardened plastic bags.
Straw vendors could make special purpose bags suitable for hauling groceries and even doubling as book bags, laundry bags and a host of other uses that would make plastic bags a thing of the past.
Plastics are one of the greatest by-products of the petrochemical industry. They single handedly transformed the retail trade, especially the grocery business.
They will be with us for a long time.
We need now to get serious about recycling. The government should issue recycling bins to every household and business.
Private companies could be awarded contracts to collect recycled material from these bins and then sort and recycle them for profit.
Imagine also if we paid enterprising people for single-use plastic bags in any condition.
We should pay for other plastics, glass and aluminum cans the same way some now pay for returned beer and soda bottles.
In addition to helping the environment, it would be perhaps the most effective clean-up campaign New Providence has ever seen. And maybe the cheapest.
– The Graduate