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Mapp Signs Plastic Bag Ban Law Into Effect Making Territory An Environmental Leader In The Region


MAPP: Out front on the environment

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Gov. Kenneth Mapp has signed his proposal designed to reduce litter and protect marine life into law on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, according to a prepared statement from Government House.

Bill No. 31-0379 will restrict the use of plastic shopping bags in the territory beginning in 2017. Members of the 31st Legislature unanimously supported the governor’s proposal Sept. 20. It was one of three solid waste management reform bills sent down to senators by Mapp in February.

The law requires businesses and organizations to use reusable bags or recyclable paper bags with the goal of eliminating plastic bags at point of sale checkouts. Plastic bags still will be allowed where no acceptable substitute exists, such as for wrapping prepared foods or meats. The plastic bag regulations take effect Jan. 1, 2017. However, penalties will not be assessed until April 1, 2017, to allow retailers time to make the transition.

Enactment of the plastic bag ban places the territory in a leadership position in the region, according to the Government House statement announcing the new legislation. While most Caribbean islands have debated banning plastic bags ,only a few jurisdictions have implemented restrictions.

The Virgin Islands will now join Puerto Rico and American Samoa as U.S. protectorates with plastic bag bans. Mapp was widely expected to sign the law as it’s related to two other waste bills he supported which are still under consideration by the local legislature. One would create a redemption value for beverage containers sold within the territory and the other would enforce recycling separation.

The only U.S. state to come close to enacting a ban so far has been California, though that was challenged by representatives of the plastic bag industry and will be up for a vote in a statewide referendum next month.

The question of whether California retailers should be allowed to keep fees will also be up for a vote in a move that some environmental advocates, and at least one local paper, say is disingenuous. The only other successful state legislation around this issue has been to prohibit bans or fees rather than enforce them.

Though bans or fees have gained traction in some European countries, the U.S. has only seen them pass at the local level and the details vary widely. Seattle just made its rules more stringent, yet New York is struggling to preserve plans for a five-cent fee. While the territory’s population is smaller than many major cities this law can still be chalked up as a victory for advocates in the ongoing bag war.

Mapp called the new law a victory on behalf of public health and the environment.

“I want to thank the members of the legislature and the members of my administration who worked efficiently and collaboratively to ensure the passage of this landmark legislation in the territory, but we cannot stop now,” Mapp writes in his transmittal letter to Senate President Neville James. “Once we have fully enacted all three of our recycling bills, the territory will be well on its way to a cleaner and greener community.”

Bills to establish a redemption value on every beverage container sold in the U.S. Virgin Islands and to enforce recycling and the separation of trash are awaiting consideration by the 31st Legislature’s Rules Committee. Mapp told senators that, once enacted, the new laws will result in a significant reduction in the amount of waste going into our landfills.

“I urge the members of the legislature to pass my proposed bills on source separation (Bill No. 31-0380) and on comprehensive waste reduction and recycling programs (Bill No. 31-0316),” he writes. “These proposed practices have been implemented on a national level and have proven to be quite successful. We must adopt these measures if we truly want to preserve the beauty and purity of the Virgin Islands. These measures will result in a significant reduction in the amount of waste going into our landfills.”

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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