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50th World Environment Day seeks to #BeatPlasticPollution; Environment Department starting push for single-use plastic ban

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) World Environment Day is celebrated annually on June 5.

The 2023 commemoration focuses on Solutions to Plastic Pollution, a theme used six years ago. Its resurgence speaks to the long-lasting negative impact of plastics on the environment.

According to the United Nations, “Time is running out, and nature is in emergency mode” as the globe continues to edge closer to becoming 1.5C warmer than it was during the second half of the 19th Century when fossil fuel emissions began to increase rapidly because of industrialisation.

According to international reports, the chance of reaching the threshold between now and 2027 is high and even more likely in the next five years.

Countries must halve Annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to keep global warming below 1.5°C.

This year to #BeatPlasticPollution, the United Nations and other international bodies are encouraging solutions to plastic pollution, reducing the reliance on plastic and using the plastic already on the earth in safe and sustainable ways.

St. Kitts and Nevis, for World Environment Day, is pushing toward shifting the culture around single-use plastic by partnering with local businesses to ban single-use plastics every Monday throughout June.

“One of our key activities for the environment month is something that we thought would be very impactful, which would be the “No Plastic Bag Mondays” and we’ve reached out to several supermarkets across the island to ask them to join this venture with us. So what we propose is that on Mondays in the month of June – the first Monday would be June 5, which happens to be World Environment Day. We’ve asked the supermarkets to not to give plastic bags/shopping bags to their customers. This is a suggestion – we are pleading to the general public – this is just a step in the direction [of] where we are heading because sooner or later, we won’t be giving plastic bags, but we don’t want to rip the band-aid off immediately. So we are going to say on Mondays in the month of June there’ll be no plastic shopping bags given. So we ask the general public to walk with your reusable bags or use some kind of other means of taking your products away from the supermarkets.” – Vicia Woods, Environment Officer II in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action et al. during the May 31 broadcast of InFocus.

“We do recognise that this will be a challenge at first. Of course, we do understand that. So if you absolutely must take a [plastic] shopping bag – because what we took into consideration is those [people] who take public transportation and may go shopping in the afternoon on their way from work to home. We’re just asking you to just make an extra effort even if you don’t do it on the first Monday. Just bear in mind that on the other Mondays in the month, this will be done, so just try your best to move towards this practice and support this activity [by] walking with your reusable bags so that we can reduce the amount of plastics that are in the environment. And then, hopefully, this would be something that becomes a part of us and a part of the culture because we know habits and behaviours [are] the hardest to change. So this is an activity that we’re really looking forward to and that we think [would] be very impactful.”

June Hughes, Director of Environment in the Ministry of Environment, reminded the public that walking with your shopping bag had previously been a part of our culture, and the Mondays in June is just an exercise to return to what once was.

“Incidentally, Walking with your own bag to shop was something that we used to do traditionally, and we moved away from it when the convenient plastic bag came along. So we just asking our people to go back to what we were accustomed to – walking with your craft bag to the supermarket. And there are so many bags out there actually that you could reuse and just walk with it. They’ll pack your groceries in it. Supermarkets are not accustomed to [people] giving them their bags to put their shopping in… we’re asking you to be mindful that every Monday in June, to walk with your bag to the supermarket.”

Woods said there had been discussion with the public for the past two years about banning single-use plastics.

“We have moved forward to submit to Cabinet a ban on single-use plastics. So over the past two years, we’ve been holding consultations with the public in anticipation that the government would approve this ban on single-use plastics. So this is just one of the [ways] that we think would be – It’s one way, but we think it will be an effective way – the most effective way that we can help reduce the amount of plastics in our environment and the amount of plastics that we use on an individual daily basis.”

June Hughes, Director of Environment in the Ministry of Environment, said June would be celebrated as Environment Month locally with a month of activities to include a church service, cocktail, radio programmes, and a partnership with the St. Kitts Music Festival to have vendors use environmentally friendly containers, and other advocacy work throughout the month.

“The St. Kitts Music Festival is one of the big events for the year that happens on the calendar for St. Kitts and Nevis. [It’s] an opportunity where we have thousands of people gathered in one space to promote what we plan to do in terms of dealing with our plastics, and also demonstrating how we can do it by having the vendors use reusable items and not [single-use] items. So cutting down on the amount of plastic that will be going into the environment… it’s not going to be a first, though, because we’ve been speaking about this for a number of years. But [to] ramp up our discussion on how we need to look at the impact that single-use plastics [are] having on the Federation and what we can do to address the impacts.”

According to Woods, St. Kitts and Nevis is one of the last countries within the Caribbean region yet to implement a ban on single-use plastics. World Environment Day 2023 is a chance for St. Kitts and Nevis to advance actions toward reducing reliance and shifting the culture on single-use plastics.

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