Debate Intensifies in Puerto Rico Over Delay of Single-Use Plastic Ban

The impending ban on single-use plastics faces potential postponement in Puerto Rico, sparking a heated debate between environmentalists and business associations.

Debate Over Single-Use Plastics Intensifies in Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, the fate of single-use plastics has become contentious as businesses and environmental organizations engage in a heated debate. The central point of contention is the possible delay in enacting Law 51-2022, which aims to ban single-use plastic items like cups, plates, and utensils. This legislation, scheduled to take effect this summer, is now at risk of being postponed despite its environmental and public health implications.

The standoff intensified this January, pitting environmental groups against trade and restaurant associations. These business groups advocate for delaying the law’s implementation, citing governmental delays in publishing the necessary regulations.

Proposed Legislation to Extend Implementation Date

In response to the minimal progress made since the law’s passage two years ago, Senator Albert Torres proposed Bill 1374. This bill seeks to push the implementation date to July 1, 2026. Ingrid Vila, President of the environmental organization CAMBIO, expressed frustration in an interview with EFE. She pointed to the merchants’ lobbying for delay and the government agencies’ negligence in fulfilling their legal mandates.

CAMBIO, which coordinates the multisectoral initiative Generación Circular, strongly opposes the proposed postponement. Myrna Conty, another leading environmentalist, echoed these sentiments during a recent public hearing in the Senate. She criticized opponents of the ban for recycling the same excuses used two years ago and argued that there is still time to transition, as fines wouldn’t be imposed until six months after the law takes effect.

Vila stressed the critical situation in Puerto Rico, emphasizing the unsustainable nature of continuing to generate single-use plastics, which end up in legal or illegal landfills. The toxic materials from these plastics pose significant risks to public health and the environment.

Longstanding Neglect of Recycling Law

This potential delay in banning single-use plastics is compounded by the longstanding neglect of the 1992 Recycling Law (Law 70). Vila lamented that the law, which set a recycling target of 35% by 1996, has never been fully implemented, and its goals have been postponed multiple times.

During the Senate hearing, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA) acknowledged that the current recycling rate is just over 7%, and some landfills have reached the end of their lifespan. Despite having yet to finalize the regulations for the single-use plastic ban, the DRNA suggested a few months’ postponement might be reasonable for businesses to adapt but deemed a two-year delay unnecessary.

A recent DRNA report highlighted a 70% increase in discarded plastics on the island over the last 20 years, accounting for 17% of landfill waste as of 2023. Vila emphasized the dramatic rise in plastic usage in Puerto Rico, advocating for a break from the culture of consumption and waste.

Conversely, Lymaris Otero, Executive Director of the Retail Trade Association (ACDET), argued that the delay is justified as the law lacks clarity on prohibited products. She pointed out the law’s vagueness and deficiencies, highlighting that businesses are confident about permissible inventory with precise regulations.

Impact on Health Industry and Financial Concerns

The ACDET Director noted that the law also impacts the health industry, as many medical products are packaged in single-use plastics. She called for a reasonable timeframe to transition, citing the island’s lack of manufacturing capabilities for alternative materials like biodegradable or compostable products.

Carlos Budet, President of the Puerto Rico Restaurant Association (ASORE), voiced concerns about the financial impact of discarding existing inventory. He warned that this would inevitably lead to price increases, urging a delay in the ban as businesses are unprepared for such a rapid transition.

Conty, however, firmly opposes any delay, insisting that businesses had ample time to prepare.

The debate in Puerto Rico reflects a more extensive global conversation about environmental responsibility and economic pragmatism. As the island grapples with this dilemma, the decisions will have lasting implications for the environment and the economy. The conversation underscores the challenges of implementing environmental policies in a way that balances the needs of various stakeholders, from local businesses to environmental advocates.

Also read: Dominican Republic Leads Americas in Anti-Corruption Efforts, Gains Recognition

As Puerto Rico navigates this complex issue, it becomes a microcosm of the worldwide struggle to reconcile economic interests with environmental sustainability. The outcome of this debate will impact the local ecosystem and economy and contribute to the global discourse on managing environmental change amidst economic realities.

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