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Island could go straight to single-use plastic ban, paper says

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Micro plastics - fragments of marine plastic waste - gathered during a beach clean-up (File photograph)

Plans to introduce fees for single-use plastics in the run-up to an outright ban could be scrapped, a policy paper has warned.

The paper said that the Government had earlier pledged to introduce a charge for single-use plastics but the 2020 deadline for its introduction was missed.

It added that although a two-phase approach – with charges before outright bans – had been used elsewhere, there were some advantages to an immediate end to single-use plastics.

The paper said: “Whilst charging for the use of SUPs will reduce consumption of these items, implementation, depending on structure, could be an operational cost to this Government, gaining only a very small first step in reducing the 8 million tons of plastic waste dumped into the global oceans every year.

“Secondly, given the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic during calendar year 2020, the government deadline for this charge has passed.

“Thirdly, although the charge is seen as a precursor to a ban, increasingly more evidence indicates the need to completely remove SUPs from local commerce altogether.”

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, announced last Thursday that the Government would release the policy document for consultation.

The paper suggested the Government should move forward with the first phases of a ban on SUPs and styrofoam products, to come into force at the start of 2022.

The paper said: “The unprecedented and unexpected effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic have diverted attention and resources away from many initiatives, including the commitment to eliminating SUPs in Bermuda.

“Nevertheless, this commitment must still be honoured, and we must redouble our efforts to ensure it is met.

“This redoubling of our efforts is particularly important now that we can see the side-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic when it comes to plastic use – such as a projected 30 per cent increase in waste in 2020 compared to 2019.

“We must not allow the coronavirus pandemic to undermine efforts to deal with the problem of single-use plastics.”

The list of products recommended for the ban included plastic utensils, bags, trays, water and drinks bottles, plastic-lined cups and food containers, plastic drink pods and products with microplastics.

The initial ban would include a fixed period for the use of any already-imported SUPs, with the second phase of the ban to halt the sale, distribution and use of SUPs and styrofoam products on the island.

A ban on the release of helium-filled balloons outdoors was also proposed and legislation to ensure non-plastic alternatives were“fully non-industrially biodegradable”.

The document proposed more public consultation a year after the ban was imposed to assess its impact and gauge support for the “next round” of plastic items to be banned.

The document recommended more legal changes before the end of 2025 to prohibit further SUPs.

The document highlighted the environmental risks of plastic pollution and warned that recycling or repurposing plastics was difficult.

It said recycling was hindered by the low cost of “virgin” plastic compared to recycled plastic and China’s decision to end imports of “recyclable” plastic – much of which was landfilled or burnt for electricity.

The paper said: “Recycling and repurposing plastics are both very difficult. Rates of ‘recycling’ or repurposing plastics worldwide are very low.

“In Bermuda’s context in particular, we have no installed manufacturing base to accept potentially ‘recyclable’ plastics.

“So there is only one conclusion – the actions required to overcome the problems associated with plastics, and SUPs in particular, lie in reducing the use of plastics in the first place.”

The paper added that personal protection equipment used to prevent the spread of Covid-19 could create even more pollution if not handled well.

It said: “If we stitched together all of the masks manufactured already, and projected to be produced, we’d be able to cover the entire landmass of Switzerland.

“This is already having a detrimental effect on the ocean – when gloves and masks find their way into the ocean, they can easily be mistaken for jellyfish, which is a favourite food of sea turtles.

“Because of their elastic components, masks also have increased risks of entanglement for a wide variety of fish, animals and birds.

“In time the PPE will degrade to microplastics, adding to the already substantial burden in the ocean.”

Environmental charity Keep Bermuda Beautiful backed the policy paper and said the island had to do its part to combat the “plastic pollution crisis”.

Katie Berry, the executive director of KBB, said: “Plastic is everywhere – in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the oceans where we swim.

“It has a direct impact on animal and marine life, and also human health.”

Ms Berry warned: “Change is not going to be easy. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that plastic has enabled great progress, but it comes at a great price to our environment.

“We must work together to find alternatives, embrace sustainability, and accept our responsibility to future generations.”

Debris and plastic found on one of the island's beaches (File photograph)

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Published August 31, 2021 at 7:58 am (Updated August 31, 2021 at 7:48 am)

Island could go straight to single-use plastic ban, paper says

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