The territory is one step closer to banning certain plastics and Styrofoam, joining other islands around the region in a move that has been lauded by waste managers and environmental advocates in the territory.
On Nov. 8, the Cabinet agreed on a policy to reduce plastic waste that would prohibit food and drink containers made of non-compostable plastics including Styrofoam, as well as non-biodegradable single-use plastic bags, according to a summary of the Cabinet meeting held that day.
Meanwhile, eco-friendly alternatives to such products would be exempted from import duties for five years, the summary stated.
A tax would also be levied on plastic water bottles and paid into a recycling fund, and a deposit-refund system would be implemented for single-use beverage containers such as cans and bottles in order to encourage recycling and reuse.
Moving forward, the Ministry of Health and Social Development is to instruct the Attorney General’s Chambers to draft the relevant legislation, according to the summary.
The law would then have to be passed by the House of Assembly.
The “policy” referenced in the Cabinet summary has not been released to the public.
Local non-profit organisations have long advocated for legislation that would prohibit the importation and sale of certain plastic products that are only used once before they’re discarded.
Charlotte McDevitt, executive director of the non-profit Green VI, told the Beacon in September that the ministry had asked for recommendations earlier this year.
In a ten-page “briefing note,” the organisation suggested that Styrofoam and other disposable food-and-beverage containers, along with plastic straws and cutlery, be banned from the Virgin Islands. Biodegradable and eco-friendly alternatives should also be granted import duty exemption, the note recommends.
Currently, single-use plastics are found in “all sectors of the VI population,” including at restaurants, bars, food vendors, households, schools, churches, businesses and the government, Green VI stated.
After receiving Green VI’s briefing note, the ministry submitted a proposal for a ban to Cabinet, Permanent Secretary Petrona Davies said in September.
The same month, Department of Waste Management Manager Greg Massicote referenced the ministry’s plans at a community meeting held in West End to discuss the recent dumpsite fires.
“We’ve got to find a way of reducing the amount of waste that goes to our sites,” he said. “Through the Ministry [of Health], we’re looking at possibly banning certain types of materials — single-use plastics and Styrofoam.”
If government enacts the ban as planned, the VI would join the ranks of several other Caribbean countries that have taken similar action in recent years.
Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have initiated bans or restrictions on Styrofoam, plastic bags or plastic bottles, according to Green VI.