As from 1 January, the Jamaican government has officially banned a number of plastic items including single-use plastic bags (aka scandal bags), straws, cups and Styrofoam.
No doubt the Jamaican government is following the line taken by others such as the EU, who in 2018 announced the ban of items such as plastic straws, cotton swabs, disposable plastic plates and cutlery. At least the EU’s ban will gradually come into full effect by 2021. The EU also mandated that by 2025, 90% of plastic bottles must be recycled.
(As from this week government departments in Ireland will no longer purchase single use plastics.)
The Jamaican government and the main opposition Peoples National Party (PNP) are all in support of such a ban. Although the PNP have stated that the ban has been introduced too quickly after the ban was initially agreed by the powers that be in September 2018. I have to agree with the PNP.
Both parties believe this ban will boost Jamaica’s tepid efforts at improving the environment. Compared to many other nations Jamaica is light years behind when it comes to applying best practice in environment control and tackling climate change.
While Jamaican politicians are talking tough with buzz words about climate change and banning the use of plastics, they are at the same time widening roads and building new highways across the island. The official reason given for the road expansion programmes is to ease the traffic jams across Jamaica.
In the long term – these road expansions will do more damage to the environment than any pile of small plastic bags would ever do. Jamaica’s physical landscape has changed significantly as a result of these Chinese/European funded road developments. In time more cars will clogg up these new roads.
The answer to such growing traffic congestion would be for a more smarter integrated transport system that includes the use of trains for the movement of cargo and commuters. I have always wondered why there was never been a push to have passenger boat services to and from Kingston ports.
- In 2018 a report by the Rhodium Group revealed that cars and trucks were the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the US.
- A 2010 NASA study revealed “motor vehicles emerged as the greatest contributor to atmospheric warming now and in the near term. Cars, buses, and trucks release pollutants and greenhouse gases that promote warming, while emitting few aerosols that counteract it.”
The traffic in Jamaica is so horrendous (at times very dangerous) that the head of police traffic management – Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen – appears on local news reports virtually every single week. I kid you not.
In Germany, there is growing consensus for major changes to its car culture to cut emissions. They have plans to reduce the role for individually owned cars and introduce cooperative or coordinated mobility – a transport system that connects bicycles, buses, trains, and shared cars, all controlled by digital platforms that allow users to commute in the fastest and cheapest way.
Jamaica was one of the first countries to introduce passenger train services in the 19th century. Yet one of the great sins of Jamaican governments since the 1970s was the complete destruction of passenger railway services.
This lack of effort to develop the railway services has now come back to haunt the island with the seismic growth of 4 wheel drive gas guzzlers and the tens of thousands of 2nd hand vehicles imported chiefly from Japan.
In order to control heavy traffic and cut emissions other countries have brought in measures such as congestion charges to force people out of their vehicles on to public transport especially the trains. But as Jamaica has no passenger train service any idea to reduce emissions from these vehicles is not going to happen soon.
e.g. In the largely populated area of Portmore the government should have insisted on implementing light railway services linked to the capital Kingston.
The only occasion you may hear of a government minister raising the issue of passenger trains is only in terms of boosting tourism.
Hopefully the Jamaican political class are not so short sighted if they think a plastic bag ban is a more of a health/climate hazard compared to monstrosity that is empty plastic bottles.
Ban the plastic bags as much as you like. But do not use climate change as the basis for such a move.
Many Jamaicans need these bags because for one thing they make it easy to carry items. But more importantly plastic bags are useful for storing rubbish discreetly in larger rubbish bins. As in Jamaica refuse collection by the authorities – in many areas – is so infrequent. You can go for months without any refuse collection on your street. We have not had our rubbish collected since late November.
So what some residents now do, to get rid their piled-up rubbish is to (illegally) burn it in their yards. Thus causing more health hazards to their neighbourhood which I find disrespectful, irritating and dangerous.
There is no government driven recycling programme in Jamaica. Recycling is still barely mentioned in environment circles. I have never seen or heard of any local recycling deposit sites outside of Kingston.
The next major move has to be the recycling of used plastic bottles which has become an eyesore and inconvenience on our streets. We must do better as a society at how we dispose of plastic bottles. Then again we have to do far better at how we dispose of rubbish generally.
Jamaica has taken in billions of dollars in Chinese investments over the past 2 decades. The government could have invested in Chinese expertise on modernising its railways. Imagine if there were railway services to and from the two major airports?
So until we develop a recycle culture, bring back passenger trains and cut the emissions by reducing our use of gas guzzling vehicles, this plastic ban is just a small step in the right direction.