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Government moves further with plans to phase of use of T-shirt plastic bags

4th March 2016

With the law for the ban on commercial plastic bags officially gazetted, a major stakeholders` meeting was held this week with the country's top importers, retailers and supermarket reps at the Environment Division.

The parties were involved in deep discussions about the financial and environmental impact that the impending ban will have on their businesses and the country on a whole.

The meeting which was officiated by Minister of Health and the Environment, Molwyn Joseph, also included Senior Technician and Advisor to the Minister Simone Nicholas, Comptroller of Customs-Raju Badoo, Frances-Anne Minnors of A.S Bryden, Proprietor of the Epicurean Supermarket - Darren Barrett, Lindon Smart of Little Canton Supermarket and Herald Rolland of Kennedy's Club Ltd.

Also in attendance were Raydy Matthews and Khawesi Brann from the Bargain Centre Supermarket, Vaughn Paul and Gloria Joseph of Gloria's Supermarket, Joseph Sealey from the Ministry of Trade, Jerome Greene from the National Solid Waste Management Authority and Victor Michael, the Owner of First Choice Supermarket.

The overall readiness of the various entities for the transition from the use of T-shirt plastic bags to reusable biodegradable bags, duty free concessions, prices and longevity of the new bags as well as a plan to stop the use of Styrofoam products on a national level were among the key issues brought to the table.

During the informative and sometimes heated exchanges, Minister Joseph told the packed room that Antigua and Barbuda is pleased to be a leading force in Environmental protection.

Minister Joseph further stated that he has been receiving calls from regional counterparts in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados about the imminent plastic bag ban and other environmentally-friendly programs that his Ministry has undertaken.

Michael, who was very frank in his views on the initiative, warned that there could be chaos if the business community and the general public are not kept up to speed with the impending changes.

He explained that he is not against the move as apart from the environmental benefits, he also sees big savings in the initiative having estimated using some 40 thousand plastic bags per week. Michael said all he wants is for the process to be done right with repercussions.

"The pertinent point is that these recyclable bags are going to take two to three months to reach Antigua from China and for the ban to take effect from the first of July 2016, somebody has to start moving at bird speed to source some bags and source them quickly in addition to what has been sourced already. So I am saying that there is going to be chaos unless you (Minister Joseph) sit down with some of the players, take a look at some of the prices and quantities that are on order and the things that will be required", Michael said.

But Minister Joseph countered by saying that with just about four months left to go before the ban goes into effect, all systems will be in place for a smooth transition.

He revealed that government has invested in a fairly large quantity of reusable bags on a one time basis to get the general public to buy into the practice of using recyclable bags. He said the initiative also offers entrepreneurial opportunities for citizens.

'Government will get the ball rolling in getting the public to buy in to the use of reusable bags; we are devising a plan of how we are going to do this and how they will be distributed, but it will be done", Joseph assured.

Minister Joseph added" the Ministry of Trade now has material to sew 30 thousand reusable bags, so there are positive spin-offs in all of this."

He was keen to emphasize that the ban will only apply to what is called the T-Shirts bags that are used to pack goods at the check-out counter.

The Environment Minister assured the business reps present that the Ministry officials are willing to work closely with them to ensure the process is effective and that they should not hesitate to contact them if the need arises.

Minister Joseph said that he is satisfied that Antiguans and Barbudans are already supporting this initiative judging from their response to the initial sale of reusable bags by the Human Society a while ago and the visible reduction of plastic bags lining the streets or stuck in trees.

''I think we are underestimating the people of this country in terms of their responsibility to keep the environment clean and healthy; the country must embrace this and I can see that it's happening. As I drive around, I am seeing less and less plastic bags lying around so I think we are getting on board with this, we are getting there", Joseph remarked.

Although the ban officially takes effect from July 1st, businesses are being urged to begin to introduce the reusable bag concept to customers on a gradual basis, as some supermarkets have already purchased reusable bags.

Joseph said now that it's the Government's policy to rid the country of the T-shirt plastic bags; he is urging all to do their part in making the transition seamless as possible. Business places are also being asked to bring in samples of their reusable bags to the Environment Division for approval as the department continues research on the best and more durable choices of reusable shopping bags.