Plastic ban - there's no going back

By Syann Thompson

PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said he would rather risk an election than the future of the country, telling the media the government fully informed the public on the plastic ban and does not intend to reverse the decision.

“I would always prefer in losing an election than losing a country,” Dr Minnis told reporters. “That’s my position. I feel that a country and a future generation is more important to me.”

Dr Minnis was responding to comments by Super Value owner Rupert Roberts, who told a local daily that the government should eliminate the fee charged for plastic bags, as anger over the issue could cause the Minnis administration the next election.

Mr Roberts told the local media outlet: “I think government should really do it because I’m afraid this is going to follow them right to the ballot box.”

The Ministry of the Environment started its education campaign for the single-use plastic ban in early 2018. Dr Minnis explained that officials wanted to ensure that the public was fully aware and had time to make the transition before the ban came into effect on January 1, 2020.

“We went on a serious public relations marketing strategy informing the Bahamian populous that this was going to happen, informing them about the necessity of banning plastic bags,” said Dr Minnis.

Global environmentalists have warned that the proliferation of single-use plastics around the world is accelerating climate change, presenting a danger to humanity. Plastic waste pollution also ends up in the ocean, harming marine life.

“If it gets into our waters it damages or causes death to fish, coral reef and marine life,” Dr Minnis said. “So, the conch salad that you eat today, if we continue down this road with plastics, you won’t have it tomorrow. The fish that you eat today, the boil fish, you won’t have tomorrow. So, we’re trying to prevent that so that we could have sufficient fish, sufficient marine life, sufficient resources for our future generations, so all of that was explained.”

Public anger over the first phase of the plastic ban has centred on the fee businesses are now mandated to charge customers if they want a plastic bag —25 cents to a dollar — with some consumers questioning why they have to pay for something they once got for free.

However, environment officials have stressed that the fee is meant to be a deterrent, prompting people to use reusable bags instead of plastic, something Dr Minnis reiterated.

“The 25 cents was basically put there to prevent you from purchasing,” he said. “So, the (reusable) bags that were offered, given and distributed for over a year, there were different events, bags were given and distributed to people, so that they could use those. Bags will continue to be offered and given to individuals and I encourage Bahamians that as different areas and set-ups take place, that they can utilise and obtain the bags and save our marine life, save our marine resources, save our tourism, save our economy.”

The implementation of these fees complements the ban on the importation, distribution, and manufacture of single-use plastic bags, along with a ban on Styrofoam containers and cups, plastic utensils and plastic straws. The release of balloons into the air has also been made illegal.

Countries like the United Kingdom and Australia have a mandatory charge for plastic bags in their plastic phase-out plan, while countries like Bangladesh, China, Israel, South Africa, the Netherlands, Morocco, Kenya, Rwanda and Sri Lanka have fully banned plastic bags.