Students urge reduction in plastic footprint
By Shavaughn Moss
Charma Morley, 15, believes that someone has to make the change for her generation, and she says if she doesn’t do it, no one else will.
“So we have to be the voice of our community and make a change in society,” said Morley, a Bahamas Plastic Movement (BPM) ocean ambassador, who, along with four of her peers – Traliyah Carey, 15; Glenderia Francis, 16; Abigail Ramnarine, 10, and Tarryn Johnson, 14 – and BPM Founder and Director Kristal Ambrose, recently made a proposal for a nationwide ban on plastic bags for the country to Minister of Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira.
The self-proclaimed “Plastic Warriors” — members of the environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) — visited the Ministry of Environment’s Charlotte House office, where they made a presentation on the economic and environmental implications of plastic pollution in The Bahamas.
The Eleutheran students cited that single-use disposable plastic items, such as plastic bottles, straws, cups, Styrofoam and plastic bags are known to be a nuisance in the environment. Plastic bags in particular are used in abundance within the country; globally, up to 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually. The students also noted that the bags are used on average for around 12 minutes, and the lightweight and aerodynamic plastic bags escape with the wind, evading trash cans and local landfills, before eventually polluting the environment and making their way to the ocean before severely harming marine life such as whales, turtles and seabirds.
“Someone has to make the change for our generation, and if we don’t do it, no one else will; so we have to be the voice of our community and make a change in society,” said Morley.
Alternatives they recommend included replacing plastic items such as reusable shopping bags, repurposing T-shirts to make bags, using metal or glass straws and reusable water bottles.
Prior to their meeting with the minister, the students participated in a youth activism workshop hosted by BPM, designed to give students the tools that they need to take action against plastic pollution at the policy level.
Over four days, students learned to conduct social science surveys to gather data on the amount of plastic bags used by locals on a daily basis. With the help of lawyer Ronique Carey, they learned about the legislative process in The Bahamas. After reviewing several case studies of countries around the world with effective plastic bag bans in place, the students drafted a legally binding bill for a plastic bag regulation for The Bahamas, which was presented to Ferreira.
The first phase of the proposed regulation requested a levy on plastic bags for businesses and an imposed plastic bag tax for consumers wishing to receive a plastic bag at the point of sale. “Our goal is to see a reduction in plastic bag use and plastic bag litter in the country, however our ultimate goal is to have a complete ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam for the entire Bahamas by the year 2020,” said Ambrose.
“In our country, single-use plastic items are commonly used and is very bad for the environment because it is a non-biodegradable material, so it just persists in our environment for an extended period of time, especially on our beaches where they may deter tourists,” said Francis.
According to the Ministry of Tourism’s website, approximately 70 percent of visitors to The Bahamas said their decision to visit was influenced by its beaches.
Recent scientific research also suggests that if the rate of litter on a beach increases to 15 litter items per square meter, that would deter 85 percent of users, causing up to $8.5 million in tourism losses annually.
“Plastic bags are a major issue in this country as they are commonly used in businesses, so we wanted to confront this issue head-on and propose a nationwide ban on plastic bags,” said Francis.
Combining their knowledge of plastic pollution with their research findings, proposed draft bill and effective communication skills, the Plastic Warriors successfully built what they considered to be an engaging and informative presentation and call to action for Ferreira and a guide to leading The Bahamas toward a plastic free future.
In their action steps presented, the team recommended a partnership between the Ministry of Environment and Bahamas Plastic Movement to launch a national plastic pollution education campaign; that the minister of the environment and housing agree to push legislation for a plastic bag ban in The Bahamas by the end of the first quarter 2018; and that The Bahamas agree to join the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Clean Seas Initiative, which is a global call to action for governments to introduce regulations and incentives to tackle marine debris.
At the 2018 Abaco Science Alliance Conference, hosted by Friends of the Environment on January 4, Ferreira announced plans to move forward with a plastic bag ban for The Bahamas, joining a growing list of more than 40 countries who have already implemented plastic bag bans.
He said the ministry has been working on formulating and pushing regulations with Parliament that address plastic use in the country.
The minister also expressed pride for the courage and commitment displayed by the Plastic Warriors.
“We are all ecstatic to have both the minister’s and the ministry’s full support in both the national and global fight against plastic, as this will reap positive benefits for the ecosystem and human health and economic wellbeing of this country,” said Ambrose.
Ambrose said the Bahamas Plastic Movement and its counterparts are not only committed to raising awareness of plastic pollution but to finding feasible solutions that work for The Bahamas. To learn more about the organization and ways to decrease your plastic footprint visit www.bahamasplasticmovement.org.