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Planning the way forward on plastics: option 1

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Action required now: plastics are choking the air and our planet with their toxicity (Photograph supplied)

There are two types of policy instruments that can be used to reduce plastic use. Ranging from municipal to intergovernmental levels, the number of policies on single-use plastics has more than tripled since 2010. While some countries have imposed full or partial bans on plastic bags or more plastic items, other countries have implemented fees, levies or taxes that are paid either by the retailer or by consumers, the former being more prevalent. The policies adopted by various Caribbean nations display the feasibility of implementing a plastic ban in Bermuda and will help to formulate a unique framework that fits the specificities of Bermuda’s retailers, consumers and government. Important lessons learnt in countries that have imposed bans on single-use plastics stem from the need for broad consultation, public education and messaging about why the changes need to be made.Option 1: Ban of Single-Use Plastic ItemsThe first recommendation is to institute a ban on the importation and distribution of plastic bags and plastic, including Styrofoam or expanded polystyrene, takeout products such as food containers, food trays, egg cartons, cups, glasses, lids, cutlery, plates, bowls and drinking straws. Not surprisingly, many of these items are some of the most widely found in local litter surveys. We believe that targeting these products is both realistic and effective in the fight against the use of non-degradable disposable products and our commitment to reducing the flow of plastic waste into Bermuda’s waters.Dominica banned most of these single-use products mentioned above with effect from the start of this year. Dominica also approved a 0 per cent duty on the importation of alternative authenticated biodegradable products — lids, cups, single-use containers, cutlery and drinking straws — and a 0 per cent duty on the importation of reusable shopping bags with immediate effect. Additionally, a six-month phase-out period for the distribution and use of non-biodegradable products imported before the ban taking effect was in place from January 1 to June 31. The Dominican Government, along with partners, initiated a public-awareness campaign that included public consultations with the private sector and general public, media campaigns, educational sessions, and joint promotions with NGOs and private-sector organisations. The Turks & Caicos, Antigua & Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands and various other nations also followed a similar strict but effective timeline. Grenada’s Minister for Climate Resilience and the Environment described the island’s Non-Biodegradable Waste Control Act as “progressive legislation” that seeks to regulate the use of non-biodegradable products, with a view to reducing the negative environmental impacts and to improving the health of Grenadians. Such a ban in Bermuda would represent a commitment to the health of all Bermudians and to our cherished environment. Bermuda should emulate a similar framework and timetable when considering a single-use plastics ban. For instance: • An announcement of a ban in 2019-20• Follow-up consultations with external and internal stakeholders, paired with heightened public-awareness campaigns throughout the year• A phased ban on the importation and distribution of single-use plastics to come into effect on April 1, 2020. Wholesalers and retailers would be given six months to exhaust their existing supplies of single-use plastic items• On August 1, 2020, a distribution ban would come into effect, and these products would not be available in BermudaStep 1: Announce a ban on specific single-use plasticsThe first action that would be taken is to announce that the Government is moving towards initiating a ban. The announcement would specify a ban on the sale, importation and use of plastic carrier bags, containers and stated takeout products. The Throne Speech delivered the Governor on November 9, 2018 declared that “single-use plastics will be eliminated by 2022 and the intervening years will be spent educating the community about recycling and reusable items, and encouraging greater sensitivity to the ocean and its importance to our lives.”The Government should present an ambitious timeline that seeks to complete the ban before 2022. Thus, a date for the ban must be set and become effective on the given date, as fixed dates are preferable since they are unambiguous and predictable. Many Caribbean countries completed their respective bans within a one to two-year timeline, inclusive of internal delays. Step 2: External and internal stakeholder consultations An integral step within the process of implementation of a ban is to meet with external and internal stakeholders to ensure engagement and acceptance of the policy so that the transition and economic impacts of the ban are manageable. The Government should facilitate stakeholder dialogue and engage with private-sector representatives to exchange views on how best to implement the regulation. These interactions should be open, transparent and seek to solidify commitments from all participating sides in order to pursue the successful implementation of the ban. Stakeholders engaged should include importers, retailers, environmental NGOs, Customs, the departments of education, health, environment and natural resources, consumer affairs, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Additional stakeholders should also be identified. In addition to discussing the timeline and process of the ban, these consultations should include a discussion on the availability of alternative products in Bermuda. The adoption of alternative products can be facilitated by lowering duties on these products that are home-compostable or meet degradability standards, such as ASTM D6691, which tests the biodegradability of bioplastics in marine sediment at temperatures as high as 28C. Unfortunately, many “green” products sold at present by Bermuda’s wholesalers are misleading, as they do not meet biodegradability standards. “Bioplastic” products are certified to degrade only in industrial composts — a waste system that lacks in Bermuda — rather than in home composts or the natural environment. Therefore, stakeholders must be educated on purchasing alternatives that can degrade in the natural environment, and further research into finding alternatives must be conducted. Given the lack of ideal “bioplastic” material that could degrade in all environments, following the waste hierarchy continues to be a priority: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Compost what you can and make conscious purchases!Step 3: Public-awareness campaignAny policy change of this nature requires the support of citizens. To reduce public resistance, a strong awareness campaign on the reasons for the introduction of the ban should be launched soon after the announcement. This campaign reaches both the public space and the media so as to emphasise the positive environmental and health reasons. The awareness-raising campaign in Antigua & Barbuda was titled “I’m making a difference one bag at a time” and included frequent television advertisements by the Government, which provided information on the progress of the ban and shared feedback from stakeholders. A jingle was produced to promote the use of durable bags for a cleaner and healthier environment, and shoppers were provided reusable bags outside supermarkets. In Ireland, the smooth enforcement of its plastic bag levy was because of the launching of a strong awareness campaign that highlighted the reasons for the levy, linking price and good environmental benefits. This resulted in reducing public resistance and a wider public recognition of the plastic problem, with consumers in favour of increased environmental protection. Therefore, the more the public know about the reasons behind the ban, the more supportive and willing they will be to accept this change. In discussing their lessons learnt from a successful plastic ban, the Jamaican Government emphasised the need to “consult, engage and act”. A Jamaican senator reiterated the importance of a public-education campaign once the policy has been determined, stating: “I would encourage any government to ensure this aspect is paid the attention it requires. This is an important component of the engagement process.” A study from Brazil also showed high approval ratings after a plastic bag ban was introduced, with more than 86 per cent of the participants considering the new law important or very important. A public-awareness plan should be continuous and updated throughout the implementation phases. Step 4: Second round of consultationsOnce the plan to eliminate specific single-use plastics best suited for the island is formulated, then follow-up consultations should take place with the external stakeholders, namely retailers, where the process of implementation will be explained. These further consultations will help to resolve challenges identified previously. Collective action is paramount to this transition, as this must be seen as an undertaking that seeks to support and work with those affected in the commercial sector. Step 5: Seek Cabinet approval and enact legislationOnce stakeholders are aligned, a memo should be brought to Cabinet for approval and the process of drafting legislation should then proceed. Step 6: Final consultations and public-awareness pushA final round of consultations should be held during the time between the importation ban is in place and before the distribution ban comes into effect. The public-awareness campaign needs to remain active in engaging Bermudians on the changes. In Antigua & Barbuda, the Government stressed the need for clear public messaging during the ban process, stating, “ ... if any other island wanted to implement a plastic ban, there are several things they need to consider — one of them is having clear messaging. Messaging that is simple to uptake and its relevance to a wide number of stakeholders. It’s important to ensure that the discussions you have throughout the media do not only cover the persons who are policymakers, but that they also cover the responses of each person in society that is affected.” The success of bans across the Caribbean have come from the governments’ opposition to the myriad of environmental and public-health issues they acknowledge as associated with plastic and the strong messaging associated with their commitments. Costs and retailer co-operationThe ban affects grocery and convenience stores, retailers, pharmacies, restaurants, liquor stores, seasonal and temporary businesses, as well as jewellery and household goods stores. All businesses that provide a checkout bag to customers at the point of sale must be compliant with this policy. Throughout the phase-out process, stakeholder engagement has proven to be essential to the successful implementation of a ban. Conversations with various business owners throughout Hamilton revealed that many retailers would welcome such an environmentally conscious policy, so long as they are informed and included in the process. Cost is clearly their main concern, although some retailers have already made the switch to reusable and degradable products such as recycled paper bags. In terms of cost, the Government will incur costs in legislating and enforcing the ban, conducting an education campaign for retailers and consumers and loss or reduction of customs duties. The retail industry will incur set-up costs and consumers may face additional costs from purchasing alternative bags — reusable bags — if they do not own one already. During the phase-out period, businesses such as restaurants should focus on making the switch to reusable items and alternatives like compostable takeout containers, degradable utensils made from bamboo or cornstarch. Notably, Antigua & Barbuda’s Minister of Health and Environment stated that no business was negatively affected by their 2016 plastic ban, while some actually improved their bottom line as they no longer had to purchase plastic bags. As the majority of Bermuda’s businesses are small-scale, similar attention must be given to awareness and ensuring that alternative products and methods are available to them at low cost.• 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

Sophia Collis