Author: The Royal Gazette

Retailers' guarded welcome to plastic bag ban proposal

wv1_23718601Bermuda's retailers have reacted guardedly to proposals from Government to phase out the use of plastic bags.
The idea, raised during the Throne Speech, was expanded upon in the House of Assembly by new Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess, who called plastic bags a menace to Bermuda's environment.
Mr Burgess said plastic bags could last for hundreds of years and should be banned in favour of alternatives like biodegradable corn starch bags.
wv1_23718611Yesterday many retailers were not prepared to comment because they were waiting for clarifications on the proposal and others were surprised to hear about it.
President of Phoenix Stores George Grundmuller, who had not heard of the ban, said: "I would have to examine the proposal more closely, but I think it would impact us severely.
"We have no alternative to plastic at this point. It would be very difficult to use paper bags for our items. Most of the paper bags available are more expensive than plastic and they don't have a handle. I know that at the present price structure, the plastic bags are the most cost effective."
He said retailers in Bermuda didn't want to pass on their costs to customers, and pointed out that while many customers carry their own shopping bags, it is different for different businesses.
"We sell lots of items in small quantities, so most of our customers walk out with a small plastic bag. Also, not a lot of people will come to a drugstore with a reusable bag. I'm sure when something like this will be implemented, there will be a consultation."
Mr Grundmuller also pointed out that some US states have found potentially dangerous levels of lead in cheap reusable shopping bags.
Managing director of AS Cooper & Sons Somers Cooper said: "This is the first I've heard of it. I imagine environmentally safe bags would be somewhat more expensive, but that's just an assumption on my part. But as a responsible corporate citizen we would certainly go along with any measures government proposed to protect the environment."
At the moment, he said, all the store's bags are plastic.
President of Lindo's Giorgio Zanol said he supported the idea of a ban. "The bags we have now are biodegradable. Personally, I would be first to get rid of bags and bring my own, or have a system like they do in Europe, where they charge you for plastic bags. We in Lindo's are very concerned with the problem we have here in Bermuda with litter; we were the first with blue bags and reusable green bags.
"There might be some costs involved, there might be an impact on business, but we have to face facts."
Mr Zanol said he was unsure if the blue biodegradable bags used by Lindo's would meet the proposed new standards, but the company would happily comply if they turned out to be unsuitable.
He said: "The problem is, what do you use instead? We did away with double brown bags and tried to encourage people to use re-usable bags, but we have to give them something. We thought our biodegradable bags would do, but now we're not sure, so if the bags are banned, they'll have to give us some time to find something else. We'll have to wait and see. But I'm all for the idea."
Anthony Aguiar, President of supermarket Harrington Hundreds, called the bag ban "a great political soundbite — but it's not that simple."
Mr Aguiar said the proposed ban had come "out of left field"."Tell me the rules and I'll follow them. Define the benefits more accurately. Bags cost me six figures a year and we give them away; it's my fourth or fifth highest expense. But I think this needs to be thought through more."
He said the issue wasn't as severe in Bermuda because we incinerate instead of using landfills, and pointed out that producing the starch used for biodegradable bags had an environmental impact of its own.
"Even the cotton used for canvas bags has an impact, because cotton is a huge drain on resources such as water. How do you measure the various choices and define what's best?"
Mr Aguiar said his supermarket uses a lot of plastic bags because customers wanted them.
"If we convert by law, is it just a political decision or have there been research into the impact economically on Bermuda? What plastic bags are we talking about? Does that include medical plastic bags? I'm all for any effort that says it's protecting the environment; I don't want turtles eating plastic bags. But do you think fishermen will catch fish and put them into paper bags instead of plastic? If you force them, they will, but people aren't going to like it."
He added that phasing out bags wouldn't necessarily have a negative economic impact.
"Plastic does cost us a little bit less, but many people are re-using bags. I wish we were at a point like Europe where they charge people for bags so they learn to re-use them. What we need is for people to be more careful with their resources.