Plastic ban bill becomes law; Enforcement Starts Jan. 1

Paper or plastic? It won’t be a question after Jan. 1, 2017. That’ when a new law restricting the use of plastic grocery bags takes effect. Photo courtesy of Judi Shimel. [hr gap=”1″]

ST. THOMAS — Retail businesses and consumers can expect to hear more soon about a new law banning the use of plastic shopping bags in the Virgin Islands.

WMA Public Relations Director Kysha Wallace said her agency is currently working with the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs to make the public aware of the changes to come.

Act. 7938 says, “All businesses (sic) are prohibited from providing plastic checkout bags and non-recyclable paper bags to their customers at point of sale for the purpose of transporting groceries or other merchandise.”

The new law also encourages retailers to replace plastic bags with recyclable bags and paper bags. Plastic trash bags are not part of the ban, Wallace said. Neither is shrink wrap packaging around bulk items bought at wholesale outlets.

Other common sense use of plastics will remain. People buying fish at a pet store will not have to use a paper bag, Wallace said. Restaurants using plastic containers for take out items are not included although some fast food outlets have already switched, the WMA spokesperson said.

One of St. John’s largest supermarkets eliminated plastic bags earlier this year. Starfish Market customers have their purchases packed in brown paper bags or they bring reusable shopping bags which they buy at the store or elsewhere. Reusable bags are made of cloth, washable fabric or other durable materials.

Public service announcements are already on local airwaves, Wallace said. Generic announcements about the use of plastic bags and the environmental harm they cause can be heard on radio stations now.

Talks are also taking place between WMA and DLCA as they plan for town meetings about the plastic bag law.

Environmental advocates like Ken Haldin with the group Plastic-Free Island: St. John said he was pleased by the latest development. “We applaud any kind of progress and this is similar to efforts going on elsewhere,” Haldin said.

Plastic-Free Island: St. John seeks to inform the public about ways they can reduce the use of plastic products that harm the environment. Reducing the use of disposable plastic grocery bags is an easy first step, said Haldin. He praised retailers like Starfish Market, North Shore Deli and Dolphin Market for some of the steps they have taken so far.

But as a spokesperson for the VI Waste Management Authority said, the list of businesses expected to comply with the ban on plastic shopping bags is extensive.

Jan. 1, 2017 is the date when the ban takes effect, but stores will be given a grace period to exhaust inventories of plastic shopping bags first.

Violators face penalties of between $500 to $1,000.