BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government is moving towards a ban on imports of styrofoam and single-use plastic bags in an effort to curb plastic pollution in the sultanate.

The Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation (JASTRe) said it is in discussions with the Ministry of Finance and Economy to stop the import of styrofoam, with the view to extend the ban to single-use plastic bags in the near future.

Acting Director of JASTRe, Martinah Hj Tamit, said no timeline has been set yet, but that combating plastic pollution remains a priority for the Ministry of Development.

“Of course this will be done by stages, but moving forward, we will be looking into alternative and eco-friendly materials that can replace plastic bags, only then will we be able to confidently ban these materials,” she told The Scoop on the sidelines of an event to mark Earth Day.

Martinah said despite current mechanisms in place to curb plastic waste — including a three percent increase in excise duty for plastic products — it was still “not enough”.

“The impact must be greater because we want to eventually eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags, therefore one solution is to go straight to the source,” she said.

Last year, 50 major retailers signed on to JASTRe’s “No Plastic Bag” pledge, promising to stop distributing plastic bags to shoppers and encouraging them to use reusable bags. The voluntary initiative began in 2011, designating Saturday and Sunday as “no plastic bag” days, but in 2018 extended to cover all days of the week.

“We have seen a drastic reduction in plastic bag distribution from the supermarkets… and we believe that this may directly effect the number of plastic bags that enter our landfill”, Martinah said.

Impact of ‘No Plastic Bags’ initiative

According to a study conducted by JASTRe, supermarkets reported a 77 percent drop in plastic bag use between January and December of 2018.

The department said the data is just an indication of the impact of the “No Plastic Bag” initiative, as only five stores — Giant Hypermarket, Hua Ho Department Store, Jaya Hypermarket, Milimewah Department Store and Supasave — participated in the voluntary reporting mechanism.

The study also showed that due to the decline in plastic bag distribution, supermarkets were able to save an average of $396 monthly and also made a small profit selling reusable bags.

The estimated annual profit from reusable bags was $5,453 among the five stores, with sales increasing by 64 percent between January and December of 2018.

However, JASTRe noted that “customers keep buying the reusable bags when they go shopping rather than reusing them as intended”.

The department said the next step will be to engage small shops, restaurants and food stalls, inviting them to participate in the plastic bag-free directive.

Ultimately, JASTRe hopes the sultanate will follow in the footsteps of 91 countries that have adopted legislation to ban or put restrictions on the manufacture, import and retail distribution of plastic bags.