On March 20, Cabinet approved a proposal to reduce plastic and Styrofoam pollution. The proposal is to phase out single-use plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam and plastic food utensils by April 22, 2019. When the government made the announcement via a press release, it stated that these items quote, “are thrown away where they can last for decades in the landfill or as litter on the side of highways, in rivers, along coastlines and in the sea, causing harm to wildlife and fishes vulnerable to choking on plastic pieces. In the municipal waste stream, plastic and Styrofoam comprise about 19% of the volume”. Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer in the Department of the Environment says the discussions have been ongoing since then and personnel from the Department have been meeting with key stakeholders in the private and tourism sectors individually to move the process forward.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer in the Department of the Environment: “Be it the private sector that deals with meats and food processing, be it the tourism sector that deals with packaged foods, be it the people that are producing these plastic, styrofoam plates, importers not just the plastics that are damaging but also who may or who are importing the alternatives that we are promoting, so all these things this next year will be busy for us before the actual prohibition or banning as we plan to do down the road. But again we have to have the private sector be part of it or else it might be a challenging task down the road.”
Reporter: Is it feasible? Belize as a styrofoam free country?
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer in the Department of the Environment:“Yes it is. Again I always insist the level of population in Belize and the level of industrialization separate from development is not there as in other countries that use a lot of these chemicals. The little consultations that we started the vast majority are in support of it. Now there are concerns on the cost, money is always an issue, how do we go about providing economically viable alternatives as quickly as possible? That is the conversation that we are having but that it is possible yes.”
Alegria says that the department began addressing solid waste management since 1997 and have advanced significantly but a challenge that remains is the management of waste, particularly plastics in public places such as parks, highways, rivers and marine environments.