Plastic Free Barbados
Updated: Apr 8, 2019
Did you know that Barbados imported over 100 million plastic bags last year? That's enough plastic to wrap around the island 368 times!
Just as the World has realised so too has Barbados that there are a range of health, environmental and economic impacts associated with plastic pollution. In a response, with effect from April 1, 2019, Barbados has banned the IMPORTATION of a list of petroleum based single use plastics.
This is not just something that was decided upon overnight. Led by a supportive administration, Minister and team and welcomed by many individuals and organisations in the environmental space, there were a range of stakeholder consultations with various representatives beginning in September 2018 . These served to discuss the upcoming ban and accommodate those individuals and businesses that import, sell, manufacture and use the items to be banned.
Fast forward to early April 2019 where Barbados has acted by taking a great first step to showing its' commitment to our health, that of the environment and our country.
So what is next?
On July 1, 2019, Barbados will ban the retail, distribution and use of the items.
Nine months later on January 1, 2020, the ban on petroleum based plastic bags will come into effect.
So what is really being banned? Only the items below. If it is not in this list, it is not being banned now!
So what does this mean for you?
If you used to be an importer of any of the items listed above, you can no longer import them! (failing to comply will result in penalties that can be found in the Control of Disposable Plastics Act, 2019). If you distribute, retail and sell these items, you now have an additional 3 months to get rid of existing stock and search for an alternative that suits you before the ban on retail, distribution and vending comes into effect on July 1, 2019.
Some of the most recent concerns associated with the ban are the quality and price of some of the alternatives available on the local market. There is a range of biobased alternative (single use) food containers available locally with varying quality and price points with the number of distributors and locations selling an alternative increasing weekly. This provides options to suit many types of food being sold as well as a diversity of business needs.
On average, the alternative biobased food container (to the traditional polystyrene (styrofoam) container) that many people use daily, whether at a food van, food court or deli can cost up to 50c per unit more. (However, if you notice your food increasing by $BBD1.50, that sounds like price gouging).
The increased cost of the alternative is a factor and concern for many but the true cost is that of continuing to use petroleum single use plastic including polystyrene (styrofoam) and the higher cost of plastic pollution to our health, environment and island. The same environment and ocean resources that we rely on for much of what we do - whether it is the oxygen that we breathe, the fish that we eat and the jobs provided by the tourism sector that many of us work in, this is the cost that we should be studying. Think of the cost to clean up our island, our environment, our home and our health.
The chemicals and toxins in petroleum based single use plastics have been linked to cancer and could potentially lower sperm count! Is this what you wish to be eating out of?
From July 1, 2019 when petroleum based single use plastic containers for culinary retail are no longer being sold and used in Barbados, the alternative will be the only option on the market and as it becomes the norm, the price will continue to go down as it has already been doing over the past months.
Below is a list of some of the importers and distributors of these alternatives. It is true that some of these hold up better than others to Bajan’s favourite dishes such as pudding and souse or pie with gravy as well as to heat. As importers, distributors, retailers and representatives in the hospitality and food service industry, it is up to you to do your research - read labels, shop around, experiment and see what works best.
Currently, the most common alternatives on the market are usually biodegradable and compostable ones.
Biodegradable is a general term that does not have a true definition and as such we must be cautious with biodegradable as there are currently no industry standards or timescale associated with the term and for these products. For example, to avoid confusion, the state of California banned the use of the term "biodegradable" for any plastic sold in the state. Biodegradable plastics can be combined with an additive that makes them break down more quickly.
Bioplastics are made from organic material instead of fossil fuels. This can include compostable and non-compostable products as well as recyclable products. The PLA (polylactic) ingredient is natural but acts like PET. Some of the most common types such as CA from wood or cotton and starch based polyesters (PLA) are made from corn and plants. However, the crops used are intensive and may have an environmental impact. Bioplastics do not biodegrade in a landfill and are not the answer to marine litter.
Compostable products are defined by international standards and many biodegrade under specific conditions in a commercial composting facility (look for text that says compostable within 180 days in a commercial compost). They need heat as a catalyst to break down. Barbados does not have one but many people are experimenting locally and getting some good results. Compostable products must be placed in a separate bin.
In general, avoid PLA and CPLA (until we get a facility or machine to handle) and lined products. Opt for paper or wheat straws and fibre products. Remember, the best alternative is to choose reusable!
These items may be temporary fixes but do not solve the problem. Although some brands are made of materials that are better for our health and the environment, they are still single use.
While on a recent trip to St.Vincent (who has banned Styrofoam food containers), I got takeaway and asked the individual serving me about their experience with the alternative and if they had any concerns with containers not holding up to heat or gravy etc. The response was, “You Bajans like to complain too much about everything. Some of we in Vincy just adapt and make do with what we have.” This made me stop and think that this individual was talking some sense about the human race in general. This is a transition phase – a period of change. Most of us do not like change. We fuss and complain a bit but then we adapt. Like anything and everything else, we will adapt. As we adapt and continue to shift our behaviour and mindset, my hope is that we realize the impacts of plastic pollution and start to become more conscious and responsible consumers and do not rely on legislation to change our habits. Instead, I hope that we change our habits because we have been educated, because we understand the negative impacts of the problem and because we care enough to make the change for us now but also for our children and grandchildren.
This ban is a great first step but what it signals for me is the beginning of a much larger movement in Barbados. It fuels a conversation surrounding waste management and responsible production and consumption and makes us stop to evaluate our daily actions and habits. We are a consumerism society thriving on convenience. Plastic is part of our convenience lifestyle. Maybe we do need to go backwards to move forward - cook more at home and get takeaway less. Use calabash bowls which hold up very well to a range of food items! As I read some of the comments on a recently published Barbados Today article, I found myself nodding in agreement to many or having a small laugh - “or start getting up and cook wanna own food simple...” Simple!
The ban has provided a great opportunity to drive innovation and create new industry. Why are we importing food containers made from sugar cane bagasse when we could potentially be making them here? We need to seek sustainable solutions in Barbados before looking elsewhere. Let us look to our biological resources for inspiration such as banana leaves for packaging.
The best alternative is choosing reusable where possible and permitted. Carry your own but be cautious with this as we do not have legislation protecting restaurants and food establishments if a customer gets sick with their own container. However, if you are a restaurant, why don't you introduce a branded container scheme where the container can either be bought for a small fee or covered by a deposit? Each time you come for food, you exchange 'your' container with a sterilised one. Much of the fuss is on the single use alternative but what we really should be placing focus on is reusable and multi use alternatives. Cue the Crate Barbados where you can get reusable stainless steel, bamboo and glass straws as well as utensils, cups, bottles and more.
Still have unanswered questions?
Then join us at two upcoming town hall meetings at 6:30pm where you can get all of your FAQs answered.
April 17: Graydon Sealy Secondary (Garrison)
April 24: LESC (Sherbourne)
This ban is a great opportunity to do better, live better - more consciously, responsibly and sustainably. Don’t wait until July 1 to start looking for an alternative. Start today and make one small swap that is better for your health, environment and our home, our country Barbados! Here’s to a single use plastic free Barbados 2020!
As the Honourable Kirk Humphrey, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy [and whom without this ban would not have happened] says, "this one is for Barbados". And that it is.