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Mar 15, 2019

D.O.E. Hosts Plastic Ban Legislation Consultation

Last year the government announced that it wants to reduce plastic and Styrofoam pollution through the phasing out of single-use plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam as well as plastic food utensils. The Department of Environment has drafted legislation to make this all happen and today they met with about sixty of their stakeholders in a national consultation session to discuss the Draft Environmental Protection Regulation. Reporter Andrea Polanco was at the consultation; she tells us how the ban will be phased out and penalties implemented once Pollution from Plastics Regulation is enacted next month. Here’s that story.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

In a couple of months having plastic and Styrofoam products in your possession could cost you hefty fines. That is because the Department of Environment is working to ban single use plastic and Styrofoam – like those bags you use at the stores and those containers you use for take-out food. Maxine Monsanto of the DOE explains that this ban is being implemented through a timed phase-out and once the legislation is enacted, it will be illegal to import, manufacture or use these products in Belize.

 

Maxine Monsanto

Maxine Monsanto, Environmental Officer, DOE

“The cut-off date for sale, meaning that you can no longer sell the product in country is first of November and the start date for possession saying that we make it a crime for you to have it for commercial purposes is the first of December. The general idea is that it is supposed to slowly stop the product from entering the country and then stop it from being produced in country so that you use what is currently available. We are not encouraging you to stockpile because the proposal if enacted, there won’t be an extension, there is just going to be following those dates. And after the first of December the product should no longer be available for commercial use in country. So, on the ground, you as a law-abiding citizen should hopefully not buy the product, use the product or sell the product and so it shouldn’t be available on shelves, legally, of course.”

 

And so today the DOE officials brought together all their stakeholders and partners – from importers of plastics and Styrofoam, to manufacturers, end users and customs to discuss how the draft legislation of the plastic and Styrofoam ban will work if enacted. Importer Romel Cuello says this ban will close off about seventy-five percent of his business – and while he may have to look into selling biodegradables – he says it may be a hard sell to small consumers.

 

Romel Cuello

Romel Cuello, Plastic and Styrofoam Importer

“My business is about seventy-five percent the importation of that product. People use it a lot, especially the grassroots food vendors. So, if it is going to be stopped or replaced with biodegradables which are about three times more expensive, it is affecting business and it is gonna get more expensive.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Are you – or is your business prepared for this phase-out?”

 

Romel Cuello

“Ha! You can’t get ready for that because people are complaining and say why they are doing this thing and it is going to be replaced with something more expensive. I am looking into other suppliers of this product but like I said it is more expensive. I was in Merida the other day and I am talking about the bags and they say it is very expensive – not cheap for them. Mexico is going through the same thing because they want to stop it too – but they are not just stopping like that for the reason of economics – it is hard.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Do you agree with the rationale behind this phase out [for the environment]?”

 

Romel Cuello

“I think that they should stop people from littering before banning the product. It is because people throw it in the streets or just anywhere and it is all over the place. That is why the thing look bad – it is not the plastic, it is the people.”

 

As Monsanto explains, the legislation defines the use for commercial purposes as possession of five or more plastic or Styrofoam products – and it comes with penalties.

 

Maxine Monsanto

“If you have four Styrofoam containers that is okay and if you have five Styrofoam containers, regardless, it then comes categorized as commercial purpose at which point you can be penalized for possession. The penalties upon summary conviction the range is, if memory serves correctly, from five thousand dollars to twenty thousand dollars which is the highest penalty. And that is only for the ones where they have specific fines – there are provisions in there depending on what the offence is for three times the assessed value for the product that you have on hand or whichever is greater and of course attached to the penalty, if the government has to either return a product back to a location or dispose of the product, you , the offending person, will be required to pay for that.”

 

Every year there are about two hundred million plastic bags alone on the Belizean market. It is staggering volume of these environmentally harmful products.

 

Percival Cho

Percival Cho, C.E.O., Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, Environment and Sustainable Development [File: March 21st, 2018]

“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.”

 

It is excessive because the single use plastic and Styrofoam products are cheap and long lasting – but as waste they are harmful to the environment and are a growing form of pollution. Plastics and Styrofoam accounts for nineteen percent of the three thousand tons of national waste – this is a whopping cost in solid waste management alone. But there are importers who are already offering alternatives to plastics and Styrofoam in country. Luis Garcia of Eco-Friendly Solutions says that the issue they face is that import duties are high on these biodegradables – higher than plastic and Styrofoam.  He explains why biodegradables are the answer to the plastic waste.

 

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.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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