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  • Writer's pictureBy Phillip V. Cruz Jr.

Ready or not: Guam's plastic ban begins in January

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Collect your reusable bags because come Jan. 1, the “Choose to Reuse” law will take effect, banningGuam seeking inclusion in new federal relief package single-use of plastic carryout bags.

With more than a year to prepare for this environmental policy, is Guam finally ready to embrace a plastic-free life?

“As with any new policy, it may take some adjustment, but I believe Guam is ready for the upcoming ban in January,” said Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee, author of Public Law 34-110, titled “Choose to Reuse: Mungnga Ma Ayek I Plastek Act of 2018.”

The law, signed on June 7, 2018, provided a year-and-a-half transition period to get every retailer and resident on board with the sustainable shopping practice.The law will be enforced by the Guam Environmental protection Agency. Violators will face a fine of $500 for first offense; $1,000 for second offense; and $10,000 for third offense.

So far so good, Lee said, noting signs of progress: “Looking around at all the reusable bags available throughout the island, the many retail stores that have adopted sustainable practices, government programs focused on green initiatives, and activists promoting this and other policies on social media.”

The shift won’t be that hard, according to Dededo resident and art teacher Julius Sotomayor. “We have been ready,” he said. “I have reduced, if not fully eliminated, my consumption of plastics. If I’m buying only one item, I don’t ask for a bag.”

Some, however, think the plastic ban may not do much to reduce Guam’s solid waste. “I appreciate the sentiment,” said Maite resident Jacq Guzman. “But what about lining small trash cans? We will just end up buying more plastic trash bags.”

Currently pending in the Guam Legislature is Bill 373-35, which would expand the ban to include biodegradable plastic and paper bags.

“Here at Pay-Less, we are ready to make a sustainable change to help reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags on our island, and we are fully ready to implement the plastic bag ban,” said Carina Pegarido, marketing manager of Payless Supermarkets.

In 2008, Payless launched the “Pay-Less Go Green” program, which adopts the use of biodegradable plastic bags and offers a 5-cent rebate for every reusable bag.

Four years later, this program was followed by the “Mission Zero Bags” program— no plastic bags on Wednesdays. “As one of the largest retailers on the island, we realize our corporate responsibility to reduce the distribution of plastic and paper bags,” Pegarido said. “Our goal has been to totally eliminate plastic bag usage on our island.”

In a study released in September 2019, Japan’s Environment Research and Technology Development Fund found that the Pacific islands may be generating 20 times the global average of the plastic waste that ends up in the oceans. During the 2016 International Coastal Cleanup, 8,112 plastic grocery bags and other plastic bags were collected on Guam’s coasts, according to the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup 2017 report.

“Our hope is for our customers to see the time is right for a plastic bag ban.0 We all must work together to help reduce waste and protect our island,” Pegarido said. “Customers need to be aware of the bill and the changes that will take place in 2021. We encourage our customers to start the habit of bringing in their reusable bags now so that it will be an easy transition next year.”

In case customers forget to bring reusable bags, Payless will have other alternatives, such as reusable bags for purchase or free paper bags. “In order to discourage complaints about plastic bags and M0B Wednesdays, Payless has been aggressive in offering price incentives to customers who bring their reusable bag in lieu of plastic,” she added.

But if Lee’s Bill 373-35 is enacted into law, the paper bag wouldn’t be an option either. The goal, she said, is to further reduce waste streams going into the landfill, which is anticipated to run out of space next year.

Using proceeds from a $30-million bond sold last year, the government has awarded a $27-million contract to CoreTech International for the construction of a third cell at the Layon facility.

Lee said Bill 373-35 “is a clear solution for our government’s long-term bottom line. Less trash in Layon means landfill cells last longer—which means less money borrowed on the bond market to dig holes in the ground.”

She added that the $30-million bond could be used for other priority areas instead.

At Payless, Pegarido said a new campaign in preparation for next year has yet to be finalized. “We have not personally informed our customers of the ban because we are awaiting to hear the final details of the bill,” added Pegarido. “From there, we will formulate a campaign to inform our customers of "Choose to Reuse: Mungnga Ma Ayek I Plastek Act of 2018.”

Paul Tobiason, president of the Guam Recycling Association, said, “Never mind banning plastic bags; give residents the freedom to choose, but charge 25 cents per plastic bags and use the money toward the Revolving Recycling Fund.”

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