Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, Kirk Humphrey, chatting with Nationnews about why the ban on petro based single-use plastics is being instituted and the benefits which Barbadians can derive from this change. (Photo by Krystal Hoyte)
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140 000. Can you guess what that number represents?
It’s not a population count, nor is it the price of a plot of land. Instead, 140 000 pounds is the approximate weight of all the straws which were imported into Barbados last year. That is actually millions of straws, and that figure does not include the high numbers of other types of single-use plastics which were also imported into the country.
To eliminate this alarmingly high number of imports, which is eventually detrimental to our marine environment, the Government of Barbados has imposed a ban on the importation and use of single-use plastics. Speaking on behalf of the Government, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, the Hon. Kirk Humphrey took the time to share with Nationnews.com about what a future free of single-use plastics could mean for Barbados.
Given the ban on single-use plastics, will any local manufacturers be disadvantaged?
The tragedy is that the original items are not produced in Barbados at all. Barbados imports all of its Styrofoam, plates, cups… Barbados imports a lot. We’re not producing forks, and we’re not producing straws. The only thing that I can think of that is manufactured here is the plastic bags. As it stands, we import the bulk of all the rest of things.
Why were plastic bags given a special temporary exemption?
We met with the manufacturers of the plastic bags and if there is a difficulty in this whole thing, it’s that Barbados has a few relatively medium to large-size employers in the plastic bag manufacturing industry. They made a case because initially plastic bags were also supposed to be banned. When we started the ban, the idea would have been to institute it from January 1, 2019. However, manufacturers of plastic bags now have until January 1, 2020 because they said that they needed time to retrofit their factories in order to be able to produce a different bag.
Now we don’t want to ban all bags out the system, but we do wish to ban the petroleum-based plastic bags. If the plastic bag manufacturers are able to manufacture a bio-based bag, something from a plant source or any other bio-source, then obviously those bags can continue to be used. In fact, during one of the meetings we had with a producer of plastic bags, they said to us that there is the possibility of producing bio-based bags, but that they would wish for it to be made clear that the bags are made from a bio-based source in Barbados.
Have any attempts been made to start locally producing alternatives to the banned plastics?
We started a process of engagement that we have to continue. I’ve met with some NGOs who’ve already started trying something. I’ve seen some amazing things already starting to happen, because I met with some very interesting young people who are very innovative. I’ve seen people make soap from the Sargassum seaweed, and the same youngsters are now trying to make plastic from the seaweed; some others have already started looking at using a corn starch base. There are different people trying different things and I feel in the long term we’re going to be able to be very successful.
Apart from the obvious health and environment benefits, are there any other possible benefits which Barbados can derive from banning single-use plastics?
This process is going to take transformation because we’re not in the habit now of producing the things that we use to serve food in and to eat food out of. However, I believe that by the end of this process, we will be. And we will all be better off. I also believe that we will foster more local entrepreneurs and get more young people involved in the business. Therefore, far from losing out on opportunity, I feel at the end of the day we will be able to create opportunity for those who are already in the industry and to create a new industry for many people.
What does the implementation of this ban mean to you personally?
I struggle sometimes, not only on this ban but to separate my personal self from professional self. I’ve listened to the people who make plastic bags for example, some of the stories of their investment and so on, so it affects me personally. I’ve listened to the vendors, some of who feel that the incremental cost may have some detrimental effect on their business. So I have to think about that. All these stories I take home at the end of the day because I am first of all a human being and I care.
People are asking what about the poor people? But I think if we allow this thing to continue, those who will be affected the worst, are the poor. Those same fishermen who cannot right now catch fish, because there is more plastic than fish, they will be affected if you don’t make a change to our national ocean plan. The people who will lose jobs if the tourists decide that they’re not coming because we don’t have a reef because we’ve killed all the reefs, the people who will suffer first, will be the poor. I feel all of those stories, I feel that pain too.
So when I think about it, in the larger scheme of things, I know that this is the right thing to do for Barbados. I know that it’s going to have positive impacts throughout, it’s going to stir up some entrepreneurship and it’s going to open doors. When I look at my daughter, when I look at the other children, I feel that we have to pay it forward. So for me personally, I am convinced that this ban on plastics is the right thing to do.
This is the second and final part of this current series. View part one here at Nationnews.com.