EPA awaiting gov’t directive on single-use plastic ban  

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Scores of plastic bottles stuck in a drain in Guyana (Darrell Carpenay photo)

…feedback requested early this year, still no response from new Gov’t 

…tourism industry looking forward to the positive environmental shift 

By Lisa Hamilton  

In 2019, the former Government of Guyana had given its approval for the implementation of a systematic ban on Single-use Plastic Products (SUPP) meant to reduce the country’s plastic waste and positively impact the environment.

The project was set to be implemented in January 2021 but was later postponed to June 2021. However, with the change of Government, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — the regulatory agency — is now awaiting a directive from the Office of the President regarding the project. The proposed ban is on the importation, manufacturing, distribution and use of single-use plastic carrier bags and other single-use plastic products including plastic plates, food containers, cups, straws, and utensils such as spoons, knives and forks.

Plastic items exempted include the storage of garbage, packaging of pharmaceuticals, packaging of hygiene products, storage/preservation of food, packaging of industrial chemicals and use in scientific research, biomedical sciences, chemical analysis. In its awareness campaigns, the EPA had explained that plastics, though useful, cheap and easily accessible, have had long-term consequences on health and the environment. “Single-use plastics have become very problematic and plastic pollution has now become a global problem. Therefore, regulation and appropriate systems to deal with plastic pollution have to be implemented. Guyana will therefore join with countries around the world to ban some single-use plastic products commencing, January 2021,” the Agency had planned.

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AWAITING GUIDANCE 

Plastic backed up in Guyana’s waterways (The MOVE – Mangrove Operations and Volunteer Equities photo)

Even with the postponement to June 2021, EPA’s Senior Environmental Officers, Karen Watson and Candacie Thompson said that the agency is still awaiting a directive from the Government on whether the project will indeed take place this year. “Given the change in Government, we had to seek guidance and further directive from the Government of Guyana. Since we sent out that letter we haven’t received any update as yet…on whether it’s going to be implemented or not,” Watson said, noting that the said request for guidance was sent out at the early part of the year.

Thompson provided a similar response but noted that, in the meanwhile, the EPA has continued its sensitization on the use of alternatives to Single-use Plastic Products. “We’re doing sensitization on alternatives, the value of them and so on while we await guidance on the proposed ban,” she said. “There is the economic recovery aspect that the private sector is working on, an analysis given COVID because COVID wasn’t really catered for in the original timeline. So, we’re looking at that and at this time we’re awaiting further guidance as to what the approach will be.”

SENSITIZATION EFFORTS 

Up to last year, the EPA was still meeting with stakeholders such as the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and the Private Sector Commission which had agreed to comply with the proposed ban and were preparing for such. In preparation for the impending ban, the EPA conducted several consultations and sensitisation sessions with various categories of stakeholders. Consultations were conducted with members of the public and businesses in Lethem, Mabaruma, Georgetown and elsewhere.

The agency also held focus group meetings with local manufacturers and importers, supermarket representatives and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). A multi-stakeholder task force was convened consisting of representation from 15 organisations, inclusive of the GRA and the PSC. The objectives of these sessions were to raise awareness on the ban and collect empirical data on how the ban could affect various categories of stakeholders. However, despite the data gathered, it cannot be put to use without the Government’s approval.

“We got information but, as I indicated, we can’t go forward unless we have directives from the Government. Moving forward, everything is pending approval. I don’t want to say yay or nay, at this point everything is just pending on directions from the Government of Guyana,” Watson iterated. She said that the EPA will be seeking an update in this regard even as June is just a little over 30 days away.

TOURISM INDUSTRY AWAITING BAN 

A diagram outlining the proposed implementation of the ban as promoted prior to 2021 (EPA photo)

A ban on Single-use Plastic Products is important to Guyana’s tourism industry and such was recently highlighted to representatives of the Government during a meeting held with the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG). “It’s something that we feel very strongly about…it’s something that we have been advocating for a very long time and I think it’s time for it to happen. You walk through the city and you want to know where we are, it’s really sad. [The ban] has been in the making for way too long,” THAG’s President, Mitra Ramkumar told this newspaper.

The ban on SUPP was also sought out by the former Administration in keeping with various international agreements inclusive of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance. The Alliance focuses on the importance of solving the issue of plastic pollution in the world’s ocean, rivers and great lakes and on the need for waste prevention and downstream waste management to stem the flow of plastic pollution.

Some Caribbean countries like Jamaica have been persistent in their ban on single-use plastics. Their ban on single-use plastics was launched on January 1, 2019, with several phases. Phase one of the ban was on the importation, manufacture, distribution and use of specific types of single-use plastic carriers below 25-gallon capacity packaging. The second phase, which took effect in January 2020, was on polystyrene foam.

The country’s third phase took effect in January 2021 and incorporates single-use plastic bags with dimensions 24 x 24 inches and above with a thickness of 2.5 mils. A ban was also placed on single-use drinking straws made wholly or in part of polyethylene or polypropylene, attached to juice boxes or drink pouches.

Other Caribbean countries such as Dominica, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago have either commenced their ban on single-use plastic or are in active preparation mode for such. In 2016, the Government was successful in banning the importation of styrofoam (expanded polystyrene) to Guyana. The Village Voice News has thus far been unable to receive information from the Office of the President about whether Guyanese should expect the ban on SUPP to be rolled out as projected in June or whether the project requires re-evaluation.



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