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Mar 21, 2018

The Plan to Phase Out Plastic and Styrofoam Use

The government says that it wants to reduce plastic and Styrofoam pollution through the phasing out of single-use plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam and plastic food utensils by April twenty-second 2019. But what will happen when the products are no longer imported? G.O.B. says that there will be no void because there are products on the market that are already replacing Styrofoam and plastics. News Five’s Andrea Polanco has more on what this ban means for Belize.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

In Belize, some two hundred million single use plastic bags are imported every year. The number is staggering for a population of about only three hundred and fifty-thousand people. Every day, we use single-use plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam products, like when you go shopping at the supermarket or when you purchase takeout food.

 

Percival Cho

Percival Cho, C.E.O., Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, Environment and Sustainable Development

“The figures that we’ve gotten on importation of this specific type of plastic bag, which is targeted under this phase out, amounts to about two hundred million on the Belizean market.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Every year?”

 

Percival Cho

“Imported every year and that level of use is very excessive when you think about it. If you divide that by the population, that is several bags per person. I think about 35 bags per person and that is why we use it every year. If you divide it like that, it makes sense because if you do shopping on a weekly basis and you take two bags each time it starts to add up for every adult person in the country. So, it is quite a lot.”

 

But these products are bad for our environment and now the Government will ban these bags and other single use plastic and Styrofoam products. It was announced on Tuesday that the use of these products will be phased out by April 2019.

 

Percival Cho

“The intent is really and truly to provide a solution to a burgeoning problem in Belize of plastic and Styrofoam pollution. We see every day that along the highways and rivers, the amount of plastic is building up and building up. This is not decomposable items – they last for years and they are very costly to clean up.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“When we are say phase out, C.E.O., is it that we are looking for a total ban of the plastic bags and Styrofoam products?”

 

Percival Cho

“Yes, that is the aim, to remove them off the market, so to speak.”

 

Although these plastic bags are widely used and are considered to be a strong, cheap and easy way of carrying items, the impacts of single use plastic bags and Styrofoam products are undeniable. They form a big part of the growing pollution in Belize. Studies have shown that it takes between twenty to one thousand years for a plastic bag to decompose. So because they cannot be recycled – they must be properly disposed of. According to the Belize Solid Waste Management, Belize City alone accounts for some eight hundred tons of solid waste per month – the national weight is at over three thousand tons. That national waste is made up of about nineteen percent of plastic and Styrofoam. So, here at the regional sanitary landfill at mile twenty-four on the George Price Highway is where those non-biodegradable items disposed.

 

Carlo Medina

Carlo Medina, Manager, Regional Sanitary Landfill, Belize Solid Waste Management

“Plastics are the biggest issue right now. We have a lot of plastics. As you can see in the back, it is, oh, a big amount of plastics, Styrofoam, tyres. We have a lot.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“And these things can’t be recycled so they must be buried here?”

 

Carlo Medina

“It cannot be recycled here in Belize.”

 

When they’re not piling up in landfills, plastic and Styrofoam are blocking drains, littering streets and highways and contaminating oceans where fish, seabirds, and other marine animals eat them. For conservationists, this is a big step that is long overdue.

 

Janelle Chanona

Janelle Chanona, VP, OCEANA Belize

“It is very sad when you are in the water and you are seeing turtles going after pieces of plastic, or your are snorkeling and seeing a popular brand shopping bag floating by you, or you are on the water taxi heading out to one of the cayes and you pass all of this garbage caught up in the sargassum, or you on the channels.”

 

Percival Cho

“It is a hundred percent doable. I think it is going to take us quite some time to get done and hence you have the year. It is also a behavior change approach, as well, and behavior isn’t changed overnight.”

 

So, what happens when the ban is in place for these products? There are biodegradable – environmentally friendly options already available on the market. Locally, the use of green bags, utensils and containers is growing. Eco-Friendly Solutions is the largest importer of these alternative products. General Manager Luis Garcia explains how and why his products are the answer to the plastic and Styrofoam ban.

 

Luis Garcia

Luis Garcia, General Manager, Eco-friendly Solutions

“Our products are based out of starch. They are starch-based products. We prepare the molds and know what we want and send for production in China.  You can reuse one of our plates; washing them well you can reuse them five to six times. They won’t lose the strength. Then when they are disposed, once they are touched with elements of water, sunlight and dirt, they start the process of break down. So, it will take, when you throw them in the landfill, it will take probably three months and it will turn back into dirt. So, that is the process of it.  We have all the takeout clam shells from the burger trays to the three compartment to the big one compartment. We have the soup bowls that can turn into salad bowls, the meat trays, forks, plates, knives, spoons, desert bowls, regular plates and shopping bags; those bags are what we called the “ make a difference – go green’ those are the bags you can shop now. The difference with our plastic is that whenever you go to the shop and you order something, they give you two or three because of the weight. Our bags, one plastic bag can actually handle what three plastic bag can handle. So, they are stronger. Our 55 gallon garbage is much stronger than any plastic bag out there.”

 

And while it is good news for businesses like eco-friendly solutions, proponents of this ban believe that it can create even more and new opportunities.

 

Maxine Monsanto

Maxine Monsanto, Environmental Officer

“We have now opened the door for a whole other sector, a whole other industry and when this was done in other countries of the world, they developed other industries to design and make bags, to do other activities to compensate for the loss of the plastic bags, loss of the Styrofoam carriers and they replaced it with more environmentally friendly, biodegradable products, which also heightened the product value because you are going green.”

 

…and how about for consumers? Will it mean that you will have to pay more for these environmentally friendly products?

 

Luis Garcia

“With incentives and also more support, we can lower the pricing and with more sales we can lower the pricing. I don’t think we can ever reach the plastic and Styrofoam because of the raw material, but we will be able to do that. Now, if you look at the holistic approach of solid waste management, what we are spending in dealing with plastic and Styrofoam, you will not have that expense using our products.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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1 Response for “The Plan to Phase Out Plastic and Styrofoam Use”

  1. Mike Green says:

    Now this is good news all around.

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