The Haitian crackdown was first announced last month in a presidential decree issued by President Michel Martelly. After initial confusion and public protests because it was assumed that plastic bags used for potable water were also being targeted for now they are exempt the crackdown appears to be winning public support.
For weeks, the government has been running TV spots informing the general public about the ban.
If they tell us not to sell them, we wont, said Christine Resile, 39, a mother of three who began peddling plastic bags last year after losing her $50 a month housekeeping job in the hills of Port-au-Prince. We sell them because we dont have any alternatives; not because we love selling them.
Marguerite Etienne, who sells food on a congested curbside in downtown Port-au-Prince, said shes prepared to work with the ban.
The clients will just have to come with their plates and bowls as they did before we started using the containers, she said, frying plantains and pork on a charcoal stove. To-go foam containers were stacked nearby. These things litter the country. Haiti wasnt always this dirty, Etienne said.
But getting Haitians to adjust to the changes may be easier said than done. The imported containers, which come mainly from the neighboring Dominican Republic, have become an integral part of daily life. For instance, a day after Tropical Storm Isaac flooded the country last month, Martelly posted photos on his Facebook page showing his wife Sophia Martelly distributing hot meals to children on foam plates.
Environmental activists in Haiti say while they commend the government for being environmentally-proactive, they do wonder how Haiti a country that already struggles to control its porous borders and collect taxes will police the ban.
I would like to see it go through, but I would also like to see them have a contingency plan if it doesnt, said Sam Bloch of Haiti Communitere, a nongovernmental organization in Port-au-Prince that promotes environmentally friendly projects among Haitians. There is still plenty of trash in Haiti that is waiting to go into the ocean.
Earlier this year, Haiti Communitere, with the help of 20 women from the Cité Soleil slum, completed the construction of a hurricane and earthquake-resistant house. The tiny house is made from recycled plastic bags and 27,000 foam containers pulled from nearby canals. Bloch said the goal is to build more of the homes for Haitis poor, with the help of a factory that can turn the containers into blocks for faster construction.
Sasha Kramer, a University of Miami professor, who co-founded SOIL, a U.S. nonprofit that turns human waste into compost in Haiti, said it is difficult to imagine how the Haitian governments ban will be implemented.
Banning widely used items can only be successful when viable alternatives are available, Kramer said. Unless this ban goes hand-in-hand with a new product that can replace plastic bags and Styrofoam, it will not be successful, and is likely to heavily impact the poor who rely on these products to sell their goods on the informal market.
In Rwanda, parliament passed the 2008 ban after a four-year sensitization period and after a scientific study showed an overwhelming negative impact of plastic bags on the environment and the countrys economy, the head of the African nations environmental management authority said.