Plastic bag ban approaches; VIWMA Steps Up Outreach

Town meetings are taking place territory wide, letting the public in on the Jan. 1 ban on single use plastic grocery bags. [hr gap=”2″]

CRUZ BAY — Officials of the Waste Management Authority told St. John residents gathered for a town meeting about the upcoming ban on plastic retail shopping bags.

About a half dozen people sat in on the WMA town meeting Nov. 15. WMA Chief Operating Officer Steve Aubin described what actions are expected by the first of the year.

The town meeting was part of a three island outreach effort. Participants received phamplets spelling out the law signed by Gov. Kenneth Map Oct. 7.

Under the new law, supermarkets, grocery stores and designated retail stores will eliminate the use of plastic shopping bags at the point of sale.

Businesses who still have stocks of plastic bags after Jan. 1, 2017 will have until April 1 to use them up. Those who fail to comply by that date are expected to receive notices to discontinue use. Fines of between $500 to $1,000 per day will apply afterward.

Aubin also told the gathering what the ban does not include — plastic trash bags or plastic film packaging used to wrap food items and carry produce. Restaurants and food trucks that use plastic packaging for take out orders are also exempt from the law.

Plastic bags used by pet stores to transport pet fish or collect dog droppings are allowed. Plastic garment covers from dry cleaners, plastic bags used by phamacies and those used to carry frozen items are also exempt, Aubin said.

Bags used to transport chemical pesticides, drain-cleaning chemicals are allowed on a single use basis only, under the law. “This is strictly for plastic checkout bags,” he said.

WMA Public Relations Director Kysha Wallace played a video of a Public Service Announcement created to remind the public about the plastic bag ban. The PSA also encourages consumers to use recyclable paper or reusable shopping bags when making purchases.

Recommended reusable bags have cloth handles, washable fabric or other durable materials.

Aubin and Wallace spent the rest of the evening fielding questions from the audience. Resident Ivy Moses complained that the current approach was impractical.

“Several years ago we switched from the paper bags. We switched to plastic bags and now we’re switching back to the paper bags,” Moses said.

Former senatorial candidate Stacy January said she was pleased with the new policy. She also asked about recycling.

“I spent several years living in New York and I became trained — especially when I moved into my own apartment — I was very much trained on the days when we recycled. I had my blue bag, my white bag, my string to tie up my paper and cardboard. Is this the larger picture, or is this the beginning of the larger picture?” January said.

WMA Chairman Hairith Wickrema touched briefly on an upcoming bill in the Legislature addressing source separation. Source separation, as called for in Bill No. 31-0380, goes into detail about the types of trash generated in the Virgin Islands and how to address each one.

By taking recyclable material out of the waste stream at the time usable products turn into trash, proponents hope to reduce the amount of material going into the territory’s landfills.

“We’re going to try to encourage home composting, home gardening and that itself will reduce the amount of garbage we will have to pick up and reduce the amount we have to transfer from St. John to St. Thomas,” Wickrema said.

But before that step can be accomplished Aubin said a greater community outreach will be needed, because there are different roles and different rules to follow.