Gov. Kenneth Mapp signed legislation Friday banning plastic grocery bags, a bill he proposed earlier this year as one of three measures aimed at increasing the life of the territory’s two landfills and reducing litter.
The other two measures would establish deposits on cans and bottles and institute a comprehensive recycling and composting system in the territory.
The container deposit bill and the bill to enforce recycling and trash separation were approved in committee and are awaiting consideration by the Rules Committee before they can get a vote on the Senate floor. (See Related Links below) Of the three, the plastic bag ban is easiest and cheapest to implement, followed by the container deposit law, which would self-fund and mostly place a small burden on businesses. When the bills were heard in committee, Waste Management Authority officials said a comprehensive recycling and composting program will cost “millions” and require new fees. It will involve new convenience centers, possibly curbside bins and systems for sorting the materials and processing them in the territory or shipping them elsewhere.
The Senate approved the bag ban Sept. 21. It goes into effect Jan. 1, but fines do not begin to be levied until April 1.
The law requires businesses and organizations to utilize reusable bags or recyclable paper bags with the goal of eliminating plastic bags at point of sale check outs. Plastic bags still will be allowed where no acceptable substitute exists, such as for wrapping prepared foods or meats.
According to Government House, the ban puts the USVI ahead of much of the region. While most Caribbean islands have debated banning plastic bags only a few jurisdictions have successfully implemented restrictions.
Mapp called the new law a victory on behalf of public health and the environment.
“I want to thank the members of the Legislature and the members of my administration who worked efficiently and collaboratively to ensure the passage of this landmark legislation in the territory, but we cannot stop now,” Mapp wrote in his transmittal letter to Senate President Neville James. “Once we have fully enacted all three of our recycling bills, the territory will be well on its way to a cleaner and greener community.”
Mapp said in his letter that, once enacted, the new laws will result in a significant reduction in the amount of waste going into our landfills.
“I urge the members of the Legislature to pass my proposed bills on source separation and on comprehensive waste reduction and recycling programs” Mapp wrote. “These proposed practices have been implemented on a national level and have proven to be quite successful. We must adopt these measures if we truly want to preserve the beauty and purity of the Virgin Islands. These measures will result in a significant reduction in the amount of waste going into our landfills,” he concluded.