An official in the Ministry of the Environment and Housing yesterday dismissed accusations that the new plastic bag fee is a tax, while stressing that the fee is intended to make consumers “angry” so that they would be deterred from using the single-use plastic.
Within the first week of government’s implementation of a ban on single-use plastics, some consumers expressed support for the ban while others took issue with the plastic bag fee in particular, calling it a “tax” and threatening to boycott businesses that follow the new law.
“The 25 cents to a dollar is not a tax,” said Dr. Rhianna Neely-Murphy, senior environmental officer.
“The 25 cents was put in place during this transition period as a deterrent to encourage people to change their behaviors and bring their reusable bag. We understand that plastic bags have become a part of our society, so the change would’ve been a bit difficult. So we gave the customers, the Bahamians, six months during this transition period to get used to living life without plastic, with less plastic.”
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.
“The idea behind it is that – okay, you go to the store today and maybe you have a reusable bag or you don’t but you forgot it, and you pay the 25 cents to a dollar that the store charges for the bag,” Neely-Murphy said.
“Well, that should get you angry. So the second time you go to the store, you would remember to bring your reusable bag.”
Paper bags, which some consumers have been urging businesses to use, are also harmful to the environment, said Neely-Murphy as she stressed that the ministry is encouraging only the reusable bags at this time.
“The ministry is not promoting paper bags, or even the compostable bags, as alternatives,” she said.
“These are available, of course, and you can use them, but we are promoting the reusable bags. Trees are a major part of our climate system and although the bags that we are allowing have to be made from 60 percent recycled material, that’s still 40 percent that is allowable for a new tree, possibly.”
Neely-Murphy also addressed claims that business owners are profiting from the sale of the bags, stating: “Much of the rhetoric in the media now says that the 25 cents was introduced so that the store owners can get rid of their stock – no.
“We’ve been working with the store owners for a very long time, so they shouldn’t have much stock left.”
As she highlighted that many stores have been giving free reusable bags out over the past few months, Neely-Murphy urged consumers not to purchase plastic bags being sold in bulk at larger retailers as “the likelihood that you will be able to take them back into the store is slim to none”.
“The smaller companies that are unable to bring in what they need to carry their stock for the next six months before they find a supplier for the alternative…can buy the bags from the food store or the Nassau Paper Company,” she said.
“However, we would not encourage anyone to purchase, as an individual, boxes of plastic bags from any of these people because, as the law outlines, the retailers have to show that you were sold the plastic bags.
“So if you’re going to the store with your own plastic bags or bags that you would’ve bought in bulk, they may not allow you in the store in the first place because they will be fined if you are found leaving the store without a receipt indicating that you paid for a plastic bag. So you will get caught, individuals will actually get caught up in the situation.”