BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – A 20 cents charge will be placed on plastic bags by leading supermarkets and retail outlets in Barbados in another six months, as part of a drive to cut the island’s use of plastic bags which is said to be in excess of 100 million annually.
The initiative being led by private interests – the Future Centre Trust and local ice cream manufacturer BICO –has however drawn mixed reaction across sectors.
“We want to make it clear that this is an environmental campaign with the goal of reducing the massive quantities of plastic bags that end up in landfills or litter in our gullies, coastal areas and ocean,” announced Kammie Holder, the public relations officer of the Future Centre Trust.
While it is said to have the backing of Commerce Minister Donville Inniss and major groups including the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, it has drawn the ire of the island’s consumer rights body.
Director General of the Barbados Consumer Research Association Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt described the charge as “absolute nonsense”, even as he admitted that the country had to reduce its usage of plastic bags.
Saying he “shuddered to think what will be next”, the consumer rights advocate complained that too often a tax or levy was imposed on anything considered to be a problem and “that kind of foolishness needs to stop”.
“I call it foolishness charging consumers for every ill that you can conceive of. It is gross and needs to stop. Unfortunately, our consumers are not smart enough to stick two fingers up to these people and tell them to go fly a kite. That needs to be done,” Gibbs-Taitt told Barbados Today online newspaper.
But Holder made it clear the initiative was a “movement and there would be no going back”.
He went as far as to suggest that that fee was too small and should he as high as $1 per bag to further discourage Barbadians.
Meanwhile, the island’s Fair Trading Commission said it was left to consumers to decide their next move.
Consumer Protection Officer with the FTC Julia Regis told Barbados Today the Commission did not regulate prices and could not dictate to supermarkets or retailers if they should or should not place groceries in bags as part of the purchase.
Asked whether the Value Added Tax could be applied to the charge, Regis said the retailers had an obligation to advise shoppers what was being done.
A senior Government official said the Freundel Stuart administration was not involved at this stage, but suggested that measures to control the use of plastic bag were being formulated as part of new waste disposal management legislation.
Gibbs-Taitt however insisted that it would have been better to start with businesses that manufacture plastics while Barbadians are educated about reducing their usage of plastics.
BICO General Manager of BICO Jo-Anne Pooler, who is also spearheading the initiative, said a major public education would be launched in the New Year to drum up widespread support.
She added that retailers had committed to selling reusable bags at a “reasonable cost” without making a profit on them