Jamaica announced it will ban styrofoam, single-use plastic bags, and single-use plastic straws starting Jan. 1, 2019, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.
The island nation is also embarking on a campaign to reduce how much plastic enters marine environments. Plastic pollution has become a major concern in Jamaica, and this new announcement builds on earlier efforts to improve recycling programs.
The government will also be encouraging citizens to reduce their plastic use by, among other things, buying tote bags.
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"We're moving towards a ban on single-use plastic, but while we do so, we're also working on a Plastic Minimisation Project in collaboration with United Nations Environment, and with the support of the Government of Japan, to reduce and manage plastic marine litter from the land-based activities, in an environmentally sound matter," Daryl Vaz, a member of the Jamaica’s ministry of economic growth and job creation, told the Jamaica Observer.
The country’s National Environment and Planning Agency is still crafting particular aspects of the law, including various exemptions that will be phased in up until 2021, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.
For example, disability-based exemptions for plastic straws will be allowed. As the world has rushed to ban single-use plastic straws, people with disabilities who rely on straws have not always been consulted.
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Certain food items such as meat will still be allowed to be packaged with styrofoam, and plastic bags will be allowed in certain cases to guarantee public health and food safety standards, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.
The ambitious ban puts Jamaica at the forefront of plastic restrictions around the world, ahead of pioneering countries like Taiwan, but in the years ahead it’s likely that similar bans will become the global norm. In recent years, more than 60 countries have taken action against plastic production in response to growing awareness of a crisis levels of environmental pollution.
More than 380 million tons of plastic are produced each year and the vast majority of this material is thrown away, never to be recycled. A lot of this plastic, up to 13 million tons per year, makes it into the world’s oceans where it causes great harm to marine life.
A UN report found that up to 5 trillion plastic bags are used each year, which, if tied together, would span the planet seven times every hour.
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Further, a 2014 study estimated that 5.25 trillion pieces of microplastic are in marine environments. By 2050, ocean plastic could outweigh fish. These microplastics are so pervasive that humans actually eat around 70,000 microplastic fibers every year.
When Jamaica’s new law goes into effect by 2019, millions of more tons of plastic will have made it into the world's oceans. By then, hopefully, plastic production will have peaked.