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…deadline for commencement is June
By Lisa Hamilton
It is almost June, the month to which the implementation of a systematic ban on Single-use Plastic Products (SUPP) has been pushed to, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still awaiting a directive from the Government on whether this will take place.
At a recent webinar on ‘Understanding Single-Use Plastics and Alternatives’ hosted by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), EPA Environmental Officer Aretha Forde said that the go-ahead has not yet been granted.
“We are awaiting a decision by the new Cabinet because we know, of course, we have a new political Administration that has to decide on the way forward. We were set for June 2021 which is next month but, of course, we await the decision of our policymakers on how we move forward,” Forde said, in response to a question from the newspaper.
She acknowledged that, given the global health crisis, the Government may have its focus set on other pressing issues such as management of the virus. When the question about the proposed ban was put to President Irfaan Ali at a press conference back in April, no specific answers were given. “In terms of the ban on single-use plastic, there is a transition period. I think more and more now we’re moving to either reusable or environmentally friendly packages but that transition is still taking place,” he said.
About three years ago, in 2018, Cabinet granted approval for the project to proceed with the EPA to lead as the implementation body. The conversation on plastics commenced in urban areas with plans to spread out into rural areas. However, these consultations were halted with the advent of COVID-19 in Guyana in March 2020 and, while the project was set to be implemented in January 2021, was postponed to June 2021.
Forde explained during the webinar: “What we wanted to do was very wide public consultations just as we did in the case of the styrofoam ban. We don’t believe in just enforcing legislation without getting input from the public and specific stakeholder groups that would be impacted. We had to put a pause on those public consultations in public.”
However, she noted that virtual public consultations continued from then and there is still the hope to commence the implementation of the ban in June.
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,” the Agency had underscored.
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 about 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.