Haiti plastic bag ban is baffling
Last month, several dozen people protested when police officers in Port-au-Prince arrested two Jus Alaska drivers, shortly after the Prime Minister published a press release about an impending ban on plastic bags and foam containers in the country. Jus Alaska sells small bags of water that are sold by street peddlers everywhere.
The cops were mistaken on two counts: bags that hold potable water will not be banned, and the prohibition doesn’t go into effect until October 1.
With the ban set to take effect next week, The Miami Herald reports on it:
Plastic and foam food containers are everywhere in this enterprising Caribbean nation — clogging canals, cluttering streets and choking ocean wildlife.
Now those pesky black plastic bags made of polyethylene and polystyrene foam cups, plates, trays and other containers that have become as ubiquitous as the vendors who peddle them in street markets are on their way out.
Haiti’s government has announced a ban on importing, manufacturing and marketing them as of Oct. 1.
Environmental activists in Haiti and in the States have praised the ban, but Sasha Kramer of SOIL raises some of the pertinent concerns:
Sasha Kramer, a University of Miami professor, who co-founded SOIL, a U.S. nonprofit that turns human waste into compost in Haiti, said it is difficult to imagine how the Haitian government’s ban will be implemented.
“Banning widely used items can only be successful when viable alternatives are available,” Kramer said. “Unless this ban goes hand-in-hand with a new product that can replace plastic bags and Styrofoam, it will not be successful, and is likely to heavily impact the poor who rely on these products to sell their goods on the informal market.”
The Herald quoted one merchant who sells plastic bags to other vendors, who in turn use them to package product for customers:
“If they tell us not to sell them, we won’t,” said Christine Resile, 39, a mother of three who began peddling plastic bags last year after losing her $50 a month housekeeping job in the hills of Port-au-Prince. “We sell them because we don’t have any alternatives; not because we love selling them.”
But perhaps the most salient concern of the prohibition regards the limited resources the government and police have to enforce much of anything. There are so many more margins on which police actually monitoring and enforcing the law—the recent spate of robberies and in some cases shootings committed against people withdrawing large amounts of money at banks, for instance—that it’s a little baffling that the ban is being instituted. Even just putting the money that would be used enforcing the ban toward offering cash rewards for foam container or plastic pickup might go further, and it would allow cops to worry about bank robberies instead of styrofoam.
The move’s not all that surprising, however, given the government’s penchant for wanting to appear forward-thinking and the political points it will win with activists and environmentalists. Unfortunately, most of those people live in rich countries abroad, don’t need a carrying container for the fruit or rice they sell on the streets of Port-au-Prince, and will never feel the effects of the prohibition.