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Bag it or Buy it?

The documentary film Bag It first aired for the BVI community at U.P’s Cineplex in December 2012 by World House Caribbean, an organization established to preserve the territory’s environment and natural resources. In a revolutionary act for our islands, supermarkets around the territory will follow the 2010 film, which witnesses Colorado resident Jeb Berrier in his movement against plastic bags.

Green VI, in collaboration with World House Caribbean and Conservation of Fisheries Department, has accomplished an achievement that will arguably stimulate diverse reactions in the BVI. I recently sat with Green VI Executive Director Charlotte McDevitt, who explained that all BVI supermarkets have signed a memorandum of understanding—or MoU—stating that they will enforce a 15-cent fee on each plastic bag used commercially.

“It’s a new concept—it’s a paradigm shift,” the Green VI director said of the movement.

Getting rid of Plastic Bags

Supermarkets participating in the initiative span from Virgin Gorda to Jost Van Dyke, and include Road Town Wholesale Trading Ltd, One Mart Supermarket, A Value Supermarkets, Qwomar Trading Ltd, Supa Valu, Bobby’s Supermarkets, Buck’s Wholesale and Rosy’s Supermarket. “Each of the supermarkets has got their own reusable bags stocked,” McDevitt said as she explained that customers will be inclined to bring reusable bags when shopping in contrast to paying for a plastic bag.

“We are the first territory…to voluntarily ban the plastic bag,” the Green VI director continued. “Many countries have done it, but it’s all been for legislation…You’ve had counties do it voluntarily, you’ve had some cities, but not a territory.”

The MoU is valid for one year, she said, adding that future revisions could include a “total, outright ban.” She also remains optimistic about government support for the project, noting that the Ministry of Health and Social Development have put out a tender for a waste management plan.

“The money right now will go to the supermarkets, but we are looking at, for the next thing, to use [government funds] for environmental projects,” she said.

All parties involved in this initiative reveal the numerous problems plastic bags create. Specifically highlighted as issues for the BVI was the infrastructure, aesthetics in its relation to tourism, waste management expense to the community and our ecosystem.

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“It’s the biggest litter item,” she suggested, adding that bags are also culprits in drain blockages and often lead to hazard concerns for nesting turtles.

If not convinced by this argument, McDevitt imparted that it is damaging to the BVI financially and economically. “You will see plastic and what it does to wildlife all the time, but in terms of infrastructure, it’s a real problem. It’s expensive…with waste management; that’s tax payers’ money going to litter picking, and the blocking of drains is quite serious, especially in flooding areas.”

McDevitt further explained that plastic bag use can potentially affect our physical health and the bags themselves take 1,000 years to photo degrade. “So, you’ve got molecules of plastic everywhere now,” she added. “It’s in our water, it’s in our soil.”

World House Caribbean also played a fundamental role in securing participation for this initiative. Founders Dalan Vanterpool and Sophia Bain were among the first to organise and rally for this cause. McDevitt described the two as “faces” for the initiative. Their efforts include distribution of 3,000 reusable bags and the allocation of funding from the Governor’s Office. In Jan 2012, they also organised a community screening of Wasteland, a film that reveals worldly problems associated with careless waste. “People were excited and I would say 90% were on board,” Vanterpool said of the screening, adding that their ambitious goal is to eventually distribute 10,000 bags to the community.

With this initiative set to commence on March 11 2013, the decision falls to the BVI community: bag it or buy it?

See the Bag It trailer:

Erin Paviour-Smith

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