COVID-19 prompts increased use of plastics

Plastic Free Cayman calls for duty waivers on greenware, compostable containers

While the COVID-19 lockdown has led to a reduction in fuel emissions with fewer cars on the road, the health protocols have increased the use of single-use plastics.

From supermarkets to restaurants, plastic bags and plastic cutlery has made a resurgence in Cayman and it has sparked concern for Plastic Free Cayman’s Claire Hughes.

She is worried that the increased use of single-use plastics could set back plans to ban such plastics locally.

“We have noticed an increase in take-out containers. Obviously, you can’t take your reusable bags to the supermarket, but I think as restrictions lessen, then we should be able to take our reusable bags,” she said in a recent interview with the Cayman Compass via Zoom.

Hughes said since the lockdown began, the steering committee created to formulate a plan to ban single-use plastics has not met.

However, Hughes believes that should not deter progress on the issue.

“Just before the lockdown, we’d met with government, the steering committee had met, and we put plans in place to implement a single-use plastic ban. Obviously, we appreciate the lockdown may delay this, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t still go ahead with a single-use plastic ban,” she said.

Claire Hughes, Plastic Free Cayman

Hughes pointed out that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, other countries are going ahead with single-use plastic bans.

“There are alternatives [to plastic] nowadays and certainly that will help,” she said.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many local businesses have implemented sanitisation protocols and initiated steps to reduce risk to the public and staff, which has included more use of disposable plastics.

While Hughes said she appreciated the need to be safe, she believes better environmentally-friendly choices can be made.

“I think restaurants and businesses could certainly use compostable containers, and having an industrial composter here on island will help that. So, there’s always going to be a need for these disposable containers, but there needs to be something that we can compost down,” she said.

Hughes acknowledged that some of the greener options may prove to be more costly for businesses, especially those who are trying to get back on their feet after operations were restricted.

However, she said, this is where government can step in and help encourage greener choices.

“Businesses … shouldn’t be paying any duty on greenware and the compostable containers,” she suggested.

Hughes believes such an incentive may encourage businesses to be more environmentally conscious.

Earlier this month, Environment Minister Dwayne Seymour, in his World Environment Day message, restated the desire to make changes that will protect Cayman.

“Although somewhat overshadowed by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic currently, our government remains committed to addressing such important issues as plastics and littering and providing long-term sustainable waste solutions to these areas. A further update in this regard will be shared soon,” he said at the 5 June COVID-19 briefing.

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