Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Mark Wignall | Good first moves on plastics

Published:Sunday | September 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Come January next year, all those who once imported plastic items such as drinking straws, 'scandal' bags less than 2ft square, and styrofoam meal containers will have to sneak these in through Customs and run the risk of huge fines of millions of dollars or prison time. Serious business!

By January 2020, companies like Wisynco, the largest manufacturer of plastic products, will either have to retool and innovate or, as hinted by its CEO William Mahfood, lay off staff. Serious business, too.

In searching for the perfect middle ground in bringing greater protection to our environment, someone like my bredren Soupy, who sells, yes, soup, at the Chancery Street transport hub, will not be happy. Workers at Wisynco will have long been informed by their boss, Mr Mahfood, that major change is coming. Some will be on tenterhooks.

Such is the price one pays when necessary change can no longer be pushed any farther down the road. If there is one aspect of the Government's approach that has left me a little disappointed, it is that the approach to public outreach, PR campaigns, and extensive community meetings will only be starting now.

Jamaicans are, on the whole, not very gung-ho on environmental matters, so it is quite likely that the Government took the gamble to make the community outreach now instead of at the beginning when many would find a million and one reasons why the ban on plastics would never work. That is simply the reality of how we are as a people.

In 2015, the local fast-food chain Island Grill took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and, acting on its own, decided to make its meal packaging environmentally friendly. The boss admitted that it was an expensive exercise, but she absorbed the increases instead of passing it on to the consumer. To Thalia Lyn, making the environment a better place for the next generation trumped every other consideration.

But for my friend Soupy, what alternatives are available to him? That small styrofoam cup was just perfect for him. And what about the householder who would typically use a scandal bag collected at the shop to hang on a kitchen drawer handle to collect garbage?

She will have to invest in a heavy-grade plastic garbage container lined with, maybe, a plastic bag of, say, dimensions 24x36 and later make that available for the refuse collector by her gate. Many changes will have to be made.

 

UWI, UTech and NCU, time to step up

 

William Mahfood, CEO of Wisynco, seems to be a supporter of the move, but he is caught in a delicate balancing act of trying to protect his bottom line while moving with the demands of those seeking a cleaner world and a better environment.

He has cited that there are likely to be at least 3,000 small cookshops and restaurants throughout the island that will find it most difficult to survive. They sell meals for $300 to maybe $650 (if oxtail is available). If they are forced to find a significantly more expensive substitute for styrofoam (not yet identified), will that not increase the price and, overall, make it more difficult for the poorest among us?

Recently, I read an article that many university students in the global community are ditching the humanities to pursue STEM courses. The reason? It is in STEM studies that youngsters are likely to find the next great technological fix. Plus, outside of teaching in the humanities (low paying), the demand for graduates even with a second degree is limited in the typical workplace.

Criticisms have been made that our tertiary institutions (outside of the excellent CMU) only turn out lawyers, doctors, and graduates in the humanities. Certainly those bright students at our tertiary institutions studying STEM subjects would have known that the Government was on a mission to rid the country of the large mass of plastics.

What were they and the supervisors in PhD theses doing all this time? Writing useless tomes just to secure the designation? One source told me that the Scientific Research Council has consulted with the Government, but nothing else was heard.

Certainly, while I would not expect Thalia Lyn from Island Grill to share proprietary secrets with her competitors, her eco-friendly meal packaging is available for all. Who is the bright graduate student prepared to take it apart, experiment with it, and, based on the advances made, secure funding for more testing, experimentation, and innovation?

This is an ideal situation presented to our brightest local students from UWI, UTech and NCU before the next big invention in plastics alternatives arrives pre-packaged from either Singapore, China, or Japan. The Internet is rife with plastic-replacement packaging, but pricing is still the elephant in the room.

The horse and buggy had to give way to the earliest versions of cars as the internal combustion engine came to the fore. In the 1960s, fuel injection was a rarity in gas-powered vehicles. We are now into the era of electrical vehicles and those producing carbon-based fuels are quite unhappy. In 50 years' time, the internal combustion engine will be history.

So, must we recognise important changes now before they crash into us and leave us socially and financially crippled?

 

The dangers of bright students and the garrison

 

The cliched view many have of the garrison is of a dense mass of people huddled at every corner either shouting at each other, whooping, and having a good time, or a group of young men proudly hovering over their guns and planning the next hold-up or killing.

In many of these areas, they are many young boys and adolescents who are not too interested in hanging out for hours smoking weed, planning robberies with the big influencers, and reaching home after a dance at six in the morning.

Many students in the garrison want to play a game of football, do track, enjoy talking with their friends, and then go home to complete the homework assignment given or just roll up with a book. But in the ghetto, it is extremely difficult to walk by your friends and tell them that you are going home to study. Or to kick ball or run track.

Such a youngster is constantly faced with getting sucked back into a hole of waste, idleness, and degradation. His friends are there and he wants to be with them, but he has other more pressing interests that will advance his life in a meaningful way.

To some it is a big diss. "Wi have a ting plan later. Com ride wid wi."

"Man, yu waan si dat mi have something fi do, man. Mi will link wid onnu later."

"Yow, star, mi nuh like how yu a flex, yu nuh. Yu a gwaan like yu beta dan we."

"Nothing lik dat, mi idrin. Mi have some schoolwork fi do. Just tek it easy. Mi will link later."

At some stage later, they are all convinced that he is convinced he is better than they are. "Di eediat boy a p&$#@. Him good fi all informer."

Then it comes later in the night. There may be one who will exhort the rest to back down on him. "So, yu a back him? A really dat yu a do?"

"No, man, no."

And after midnight, they kick in his door and fill his body with bullets. Had he followed his mind, he would have moved out the week before. And in his death, others will now say he was just another bad egg.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-relations commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.