The Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality is backing a Senate bill that would ban single-use plastic bags in the CNMI.
Senate Bill 21-31, authored by Sen. Vinnie Sablan (Ind-Saipan) would prohibit the importation and production of single-use plastic bags and bar businesses from providing single-use plastic checkout bags.
“Long have we accepted the path of convenience—plastics, polystyrene. It has managed to creep into a lot of households and business facilities…because it is cheap and easy to maintain,” said BECQ’s Division of Environmental Quality director Jonathan Arriola. “We feel that it’s time to make a decision to take an alternative route that will lead us toward a sustainable future.”
BECQ, through its Division of Coastal Resources Management, already has a Plastic-Free Marianas program, meant to help businesses identify ways to cut back on the use of plastic.
In the CNMI, five of the top 10 trash collected at the last International Coastal Cleanup were plastic.
Responding to apprehensions from the business community, in terms of enforcements, inspections, and penalties, Sablan clarified that the proposed ban is not meant to burden businesses.
“The intent of the bill is really not to burden the business establishments, but to promote a positive change in the behavior of the consumer. There are alternatives, this is a small step, a very small step into moving into something bigger,” Sablan said.
Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance executive director Roberta Guerrero has already expressed support for the bill, stating that the ban on single use plastic bags is a step in the right direction.
Guerrero, however, said that incentivizing the bill, rather than putting in place punitive measures, will move it through the community much more quickly and would generate a stronger community support.
In a survey conducted by BECQ and MINA at the Flame Tree Festival asking if people would support regulations to ban single-use plastics in the CNMI, 75.2% of the 652 responses said yes.
World Wildlife Fund’s global plastic report predicts that, unless something is done, the rate of plastic pollution will double by 2030. Currently, the world generates 300 million tons of plastic waste every year.
More than 120 countries all over the world had banned plastic bags by the end of 2019. In the U.S., New York is the latest to join the ban in the distribution of single-use plastic bags, with officials saying that 23 billion plastic bags are used in the state each year.