The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is to implement a ban on the importation, distribution, sale or use of plastic shopping bags and containers in SVG.

Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment made the announcement during a meeting of Parliament on Tuesday (Nov. 26).

The Government previously imposed ban on styrofoam containers, which was made effective on May 1st, 2017. The Minister noted, based on evidence, that that ban dramatically reduced pollution levels.

Under section 31 of the Environmental Health Services Act, the Minister of Health on Monday (Nov. 25) signed a Statutory Rule and Order (SR &O) entitled, “The Environmental Health Control of Disposable Plastics Regulations 2019”.

The Minister informed that the purpose of the SR & O, which has already been gazette, is to ban the use of single used plastic shopping bags and certain plastic food containers by prohibiting the importation and local sale of such bags and containers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

According to Section 3 of the regulations that are being put in place, a person shall not;

a. Import disposable plastic shopping bags from March 1st, 2020.

b. Import disposable plastic food service containers from August 1st, 2020.

It further states that a person shall not distribute, sell or use;

a. Disposable plastic shopping bags from August 1st, 2020.

b. Disposable plastic food containers from January 1st, 2021.

The Minister explained that with this ban, it is expected that pollution to street, drains and landfills will end.

“Accordingly, we expect the pollution of streets, drains and landfills of SVG by plastic shopping bags to end as of the 1st of August, 2020…Emancipation day you might say, while we start 2021 without the plastic hinge food containers that too often are casually tossed into drains, streets and bushes after the user has consumed his or her meal”

Browne noted that the Government would have preferred to bring the prohibitions into effect immediately, however these time lines were “carefully considered and calibrated” with four goals in mind.

  1. To allow importers to complete existing contracts and to give them time to source alternative bags or containers.
  2. To provide sufficient time for local suppliers to exhaust existing stocks of bags and containers.
  3. To afford local plastic bag manufacturers the opportunity to retool their processes, to produce more alternatively environmentally friendly products.
  4. To ensure ample opportunity to sensitize the general public about the environmental impact of single use plastics and the availability of more sustainable alternatives to those products.

The Health Minister informed that in recent months, the Government of SVG has held consultations with major supermarkets, retailers and local manufacturers of plastic bags.

He added that the Government has also taken time to understand the role of plastic bags in the socioeconomic lives of Vincentian consumers and businesses.

“We recognize, for example, that many people use their supermarket bags as garbage bags in the home. We understand that many vendors in our produce and fish markets do a brisk trade in the sale of plastic bags and we understand that our local manufactures of bags employ many hard working Vincentians.”

“…Other structural and practical peculiarities, like the way certain goods travel from mainland St. Vincent to the Grenadines and between our towns and villages in the laps of minivan passengers, were also discussed and explained.”

Minister Browne on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment and the Ministry of Sustainable Development, thanked the supermarkets and plastic bags manufacturers for their cooperative approach in these consolations.

Browne shared that some retailers have already begun the process of phasing out the use of single use plastic bags. Other major retailers have engaged with overseas producers to come up with optimal reusable bags to be used in SVG.

The Minister noted that the ban on single use plastic bags and containers does not prohibit all types of plastic bags.

“Plastic containers remain a necessary and important part of life, production and commerce in SVG and around the world. As such, the SR&O makes clear that a number of plastic bags are still permissible in the country including; bread bags, bags used to contain fresh fish, garbage bags, bags that hold seedlings or young plants, bags used to hold or dispose medicinal products, disposable bags made of biodegradable material and others.”

“…Additional, we have exempted from the ban, those plastic bags that are produced locally for export purposes. Our local manufactures of plastic bags enjoy a brisk trade with countries in the region that have not taken a similar decision to ban plastic containers.”

Those products can continue to be produced for export however; they cannot be sold or distributed locally.

Quoting a study, the Minister educated that the average Vincentian produces more plastic waste than the average British, Chinese or American Resident.

“Plastics simply harm the environment in various ways. It blocks drains, increases the vulnerability to flooding during the course of extreme weather events, kills fish and wildlife, pollutes rivers and beaches, damages economic growth through its impact on livelihoods – particularly in the fisheries sector, detracts from tourism appeal when we are attempting more than ever to market our natural beauty and pristine environmental blessings.” – Minister Luke Browne (x104.3 FM)