Georgetown, Guyana – (April 23, 2018) Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon, today, announced that the Department of the Environment (DoE) is working on a proposal consisting of measures, which include a ban on the use of single-use plastics in Guyana. This type of plastic is made of low-density polyethylene, which does not break easily and is, therefore, not easily recycled and does not disintegrate. The proposal document will be engaging the attention of Cabinet soon. Speaking at an event at the Baridi Benab at State House to mark Earth Day, which was observed yesterday, the Minister reiterated the Government’s commitment to protecting the environment and preserving Guyana’s ecosystems.

The theme for this year’s Earth Day observances is ‘End Plastic Pollution’ and Minister Harmon said that “We have to change our consumption and waste disposal patterns to combat this all pervasive presence of plastic waste in our environment. Very soon, we will have taken to Cabinet, a memorandum, which is being prepared by the Department of Environment… about measures to ban [single-use] plastics in Guyana… We are going to try to put in place the policies and arrangements,” he said.

The Minister of State said that Earth Day presents the perfect opportunity for citizens of Guyana and wider world, to not only take stock of their individual and collective responsibilities to the environment, but also to demonstrate a greater commitment and resolve to keep the safeguard the planet so that it is not rendered uninhabitable for future generations. “In January 2017, the Administration tabled and passed in the National Assembly, an amendment to the Customs Act, which stipulates that importers of plastic containers must pay an environmental levy to the Guyana Revenue Authority. This levy was not primarily a revenue collection initiative, but a measure to encourage recycling of plastic and to reduce its use,” the Minister explained.

Additionally, earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collaborated with some of the major supermarkets in the City to minimise the use of plastic bags. Minister Harmon said that this initiative will see supermarkets switching to boxes and reusable and biodegradable bags. The management of these businesses have also undertaken to find ways to encourage their customers to walk with their shopping bags instead of relying on plastic. Some of the participating businesses include: Bounty Supermarket, N&S Mattai’s Supermarket, Survival Supermarket, Budget Supermarket, Distribution Services Limited (DSL) and Massy Stores Supermarket.

Minister Harmon used the forum to appeal to Guyanese to minimise, if not eliminate, the use of single-use plastic bags. He also expressed the Government’s appreciation to individuals and organisations that have been committing their time and resources to cleaning their surroundings and other public spaces. “Together and only together, can we protect the clean air that we breathe, the precious water resources and the flora and fauna that we share with the rest of the world and to pass on to posterity, a planet that is in a better condition than we found it,” he said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Minister of Business with responsibility for Tourism, Mr. Dominic Gaskin, who said that reduction and/or elimination of plastic waste by 2020, is something that Guyana can and should accomplish because the nation has become very irresponsible in its management and disposal of plastic, which, if not checked now, will only become worse.

“The problem is not just plastic. Plastic is a very useful material. It has provided many solutions for society and for business. The problem, however, is our approach to plastic and the wanton use of plastic products, especially single-use items and the manner in which we discard of those products when we are finished using them…This points to a lack of discipline, a lack of order and a lack of responsibility and the need for a serious and authoritative response,” he said.

Minister Gaskin also called on civil society and other prominent Guyanese citizens who have an influential voice, to do their part in trying to promote and encourage a behavioural and cultural shift when it comes to waste disposal.

Speaking from a tourism point of view, the Minister said that he wants to see an increase in visitor arrivals in Guyana but as a country with a relatively young tourism industry, Guyana has an opportunity to make early choices in terms of the model of tourism that it wishes to promote. “If we showcase a cesspool, we will attract tourists, who are comfortable vacationing in a cesspool and will have no problems adding to the mess that is already there. On the other hand, if we showcase a clean and salubrious environment, we will attract tourists who will appreciate that sort of environment and, who will contribute to sustaining that environment,” he said.

Meanwhile, Head of the Department of Ms. Ndibi Schwiers informed that on a global scale, it is estimated that nearly two million single-use plastic bags are distributed worldwide every minute, while one million plastic bottles are purchased every minutes around the world and these numbers are likely to increase dramatically in the coming years if measures are not taken to curtail the use of plastic. “Less than half of those bottles are recycled. More than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world and this is up from 300 billion a decade ago…mother earth supports and sustains all life forms, it is the very basis for our existence. How then can we continue to treat with disdain, that which protects and supports us?” she questioned.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator, Ms. Mikiko Tanaka said that if the world can realise the goal of ending plastic pollution, positive impacts on the environment will be tremendous, particularly in terms of a reduction in Carbon footprint. She added that while humans benefit significantly from the use of plastics, appropriate methods of disposal often goes unaddressed, so much so, that in 2006, the UNDP reported that every square-mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of plastic.

Today’s event, which was organised by the DoE, also featured cultural activities and an exhibition put on by various Government agencies as well as private enterprises. The principal objective of Earth Day, which is observed on April 22 every year, is to raise awareness and to reinforce the need for action to safeguard the world’s home for future generations. Earth Day is a day designated by the United Nations to mark the anniversary of the commencement of the modern environmental movement in 1970. It is celebrated in almost 200 countries around the world.

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