The way forward on plastics: option 2

  • Sophia Collis was an intern with Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce. This is the first in a series of articles speaking on the need to reduce plastic waste in Bermuda

    Sophia Collis was an intern with Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce. This is the first in a series of articles speaking on the need to reduce plastic waste in Bermuda


Table notes

• Included product details, exclusions and dates vary by jurisdiction. In some cases, details have changed over time. Usually phase-out periods are specified for distribution and or use

• In most jurisdictions, import duties on alternatives have been reduced or eliminated

• Styrofoam containers — food service products — may include plates, cups, bowls, hinged “clam shell” containers, egg cartons, fruit trays, meat trays, vegetable trays, other small trays and other products made of Styrofoam or other plastic

• Plastic cutlery may include forks, knives, spoons, stirrers, plates, bowls, cups and glasses

• Legislative effective dates may specify importation, manufacture and or usage dates

• Bahamas legislation now being considered will also ban the release of balloons

The second option available for ridding Bermuda of plastic waste involves taxing single-use plastics on importation and lowering duties on alternatives.

The target area to focus on should be the elimination of plastic bags, food containers, food trays, egg cartons, cups, glasses, lids, cutlery, plates, bowls and drinking straws through the switch to better eco-friendly products.

Step 1: Announce the plan to target specific single-use plastics with higher duties

We are aware that the Government is considering pursuing a policy based on initiating higher import duties on selected single-use plastics. Similar to the ban outlined above, this approach must target the same items — plastic bags, take-out containers, cups, lids, plates, etc — and be completed within a given limited period of time and in the same aforementioned framework.

A clear date must be set for the imposition of the new duties and duty relief.

Notably, no Caribbean countries formulated plastic mitigation policies that solely relied on increased duties. Policies have been intertwined with lowering duties on alternatives so as to provide feasible options for plastic replacement. Thus, the promotion of better alternative products should be clearly articulated.

Raising a tax on single-use plastic imports is a feasible option for the Government to undertake.

This policy instrument aims to curb single-use plastic consumption by setting a “price” on single-use disposable plastic products, which were previously handed out to customers for free, as changing the cost will change behaviour.

Revenues generated from plastic taxes have contributed to environmental funds in various countries, and that could be applied in Bermuda.

Implementing a tariff on certain plastic products will directly affect wholesale importers and retailers, who will most likely pass the costs on to their customers.

If the public are not engaged in the reasons behind this tax, there will be objections and resistance.

Therefore, public consultation, educational messaging and transparency are critically important. A policy that is designed in isolation, say, to restrict use of plastic without promoting alternatives, is likely to fail.

Thus, for this transition to come at a low cost for businesses and with little resistance from consumers, it is essential to simultaneously lower or eliminate the import duties on approved biodegradable alternative products.

Promote the use of alternatives

Before targeting specific single-use plastics with punitive duties, the Government should assess and verify the presence of valid alternatives, while ensuring that the preconditions for their acceptance into the market are in place, via public consultation and education.

Economic incentives must be provided to encourage the uptake of affordable, eco-friendly and fit-for-purpose alternatives that do not cause more harm.

This can be done through duty relief on these products, which can facilitate the replacement of plastics with alternative approved bio-based products.

For example, in 2017, Costa Rica announced a national strategy to phase out all forms of single-use plastics by 2021 and replace them with alternatives that biodegrade within six months.

The public promotion of reusable alternatives to single-use plastics allows time for the population to change consumption patterns, and for affordable and eco-friendly products to enter the market.

We recommend a similar pattern of community engagement as outlined for the plastic-ban option. The distinction with the ban option is that once a date is set to impose new duties or duty relief, then there is no need for a grace period for existing stocks to be depleted, as duties have already been paid.

There is the potential for “stockpiling” of items before the imposition of new duty rates. Thus, the effect of the new duty rates may not be detectable in the short term unless alternatives are available at a competitive cost.

Experiences of other jurisdictions

Unfortunately, it is too early to draw robust conclusions on the environmental impact that bas and levies have had in other jurisdictions. In 50 per cent of cases around the world, information about their impact is lacking, partly because some countries have adopted them only recently and partly because monitoring is inadequate.

In countries that do have data, about 30 per cent have registered drastic drops in the consumption of plastic bags within the first year. The remaining 20 per cent have reported little to no change.

Of the countries that have reported little to no impact, the main problems appear to be a lack of enforcement and/or a lack of affordable alternatives. Thus, lowering duties on biodegradable alternatives is essential to a successful policy implementation.

Overall, awareness raising is shown as a common denominator for the success of the earlier-mentioned initiatives aimed at having a broader social impact. Similarly, monitoring and continued communication of progress to the public will help to build confidence and strengthen commitment to the cause.

The attendant table shows Caribbean jurisdictions that have banned plastic items by type and date.

Research indicates that the number of national policies regulating single-use plastics is likely to continue increasing in the future.

Large steps have been taken in numerous countries and recently governments from around the world joined hands at the third meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly, committing to the vision of a “Pollution-Free Planet”.

Resolution UNEP/EA.3/L.20 specifically addresses marine litter and microplastics, and encourages member states to “reduce unnecessary plastic use and promote the use of environmentally sound alternatives while prioritising policies to reduce the amount of plastics entering the marine environment”.

The global commitments against single-use plastics underline a general global sentiment to act against plastic pollution.

Conclusions

We believe that the Government of Bermuda has the institutional capacity and a stated political mandate to succeed in banning or limiting the importation of single-use plastics on the island.

Taking a strong, concerned stance in championing the policy is essential to ensure broad support and compliance.

The advice presented in this report is aspirational, as it explores the high feasibility of such a policy based on recent successful examples from similar islands and concludes that the long-term positive results that far outweigh the negative.

The policy instruments presented in this report are both regulatory and economic in nature and have been proven effective in reducing plastic use in many other jurisdictions. Compliance with a ban may also be cheaper to monitor than other forms of regulation.

A ban on the sale of certain single-use plastic items is “relatively simple to introduce, can reduce the amount of single-use plastic consumed and can be a step towards more comprehensive policies”, declared a UN report.

This report is based solely on academic research and media reports, as well as local surveys and data collection. The Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce offers this paper as a part of our public position on single-use plastics.

We commend the Government’s acknowledgement of single-use plastic as an environmental and public-health issue. We believe the discussion of a plastic tax is a step in the right direction, but, as noted earlier, a ban on single-use plastics is more favourable because of its comprehensiveness, rapid impact and feasibility.

A ban would represent a public condemnation of plastic pollution and the greater climate crisis that threatens the planet on which we all live. Initiating environmental policy would galvanise admiration for a government that genuinely cares for the future generations of Bermudians, as well as generate hope for a more progressive future together.

A ban, if implemented swiftly and conscientiously, would prove to be acceptable with the Bermudian population, owing to its socially and environmentally beneficial nature.

The option of lowering of duties on alternative products to create accessible avenues for transition would lessen the costs for businesses and consumers alike.

This policy must take a holistic approach and incorporate public consultations and educational campaigns. Bermuda can join the leaders of the world in denouncing the global plastic waste crisis and strive to become part of the solution.

Sophia Collis was an intern with Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce over the summer. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Development from McGill University and is volunteering at the Centre for Environment and Community Assets Development in Hanoi, Vietnam. Acknowledgments: Kim Smith, of BEST, for her direction in helping the author with the piece. Anne Hyde, of Keep Bermuda Beautiful, Robbie Smith, PhD, of the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, and Erich Hetzel, of BEST, for reviewing the final report, and to the staff of the Bermuda Government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources for their assistance in preparing this document

To view the full unedited document, click on the PDF under “Related Media”

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Published Nov 23, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 22, 2019 at 11:20 pm)

The way forward on plastics: option 2

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