Plastic bag ban confusion lingers

LANDFILL: Various forms of plastic waste are seen at the Layon landfill in this photo from 2020. Post file photo

Enforcement of Guam's plastic bag ban that went into effect on Jan. 1 could take some time to start.

There's still public confusion about the 2018 ban and its expanded version that was signed just weeks ago.

To help remedy the situation, the Guam Environmental Protection Agency is planning a public education and outreach campaign, Guam EPA Deputy Administrator Michelle Lastimoza said at Tuesday's meeting of the Islandwide Beautification Task Force led by Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio.

Under the law, it's illegal for retail or wholesale establishments to sell or distribute disposable carryout bags, unless the bag is made of paper or made of biodegradable or compostable materials.

But the Guam EPA has yet to formally define what is considered biodegradable or compostable, among other terms.

The Guam EPA board will meet Thursday and could act on the agency's proposed definitions.

The enforcement of the ban also does not have specific funding.

Nevertheless, Guam EPA as the enforcement agency will absorb the costs of enforcing the plastic bag ban, officials said.

"Really the complaints we are getting are, for a lack of better word, confusion as to the law," Lastimoza said at the task force meeting.

Glenn San Nicolas, Guam EPA Solid Waste Division manager, said the agency has not cited any establishment so far for violation of the plastic bag ban.

"We haven't received any calls either. We've gotten calls as to who do they call in the event of a violation," he said.

Under the law, fines range from $500 to $10,000.

San Nicolas said many business establishments seem to be complying with the law, and got their hands on products that remain acceptable ahead of the ban.

The plastic bag ban is a result of a 2018 law. Another law that was signed in December 2020 expanded the ban.

The most recent law bans all disposable carryout bags regardless of material, effective Dec. 31, 2021.

Moreover, by July 1, 2022, even disposable paper bags will be banned, unless the business is an eating or drinking establishment.

Senators acted on the plastic bag ban legislation, acknowledging that the average plastic bag is used for just five minutes, but takes 500 years to decompose in a landfill. They acknowledged that Guam has a serious trash problem and plastic bags are a big part of it.

Meanwhile, Phil Cruz of the University of Guam's Center for Island Sustainability said the center will continue its public outreach on reusable bags that started in 2018, and to assist local businesses avoid fines and penalties.

Sinajana Mayor Robert Hofmann said it may also be prudent to ask government vendors whether they can avoid using plastic bags when delivering meals to senior citizens.

At the same time, he shared how residents who have been receiving federal food aid under The Emergency Food Assistance Program or TEFAP have started bringing their own reusable bags.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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