October 15, 2009
Returnable Containers Bill causes controversy
It went through its first reading through the House of Representative the same day it was announced that the Belize Government would nationalize Belize Telemedia Limited. It may have not received much attention then, but the public is listening now and the Returnable Containers Bill is being battled by environmental organizations, distributors and the general public.
The Returnable Containers Bill was gazetted on August 29th, 2009 and it states that a deposit on beverage containers (the separate, sealed glass, metal or steel bottle used for containing one US gallon or 3.785 litres or less at the time of sale of a beverage intended for use or consumption in Belize) shall be collected by all distributors and dealers at the time of sale or distribution. Section 4 continues: a dealer shall accept at his place of business from a redeemer any empty beverage container of the design, shape, size, color, composition and brand sold by the dealer and shall pay to the redeemer the refund value of each such beverage container. Section 8 states that every person who contravenes this act is guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $500 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and period of imprisonment.
According to Government officials this bill is being proposed as an environmental step forward. By adding a monetary value to glass containers such as Belikin, Heinkin and Red Stripe bottles (for example), more people would be inclined to recycle these rather than disposing of them on our streets, beaches, waterways or dump sites. Aluminum cans, such as Monster, Red Bull and other imported juice cans will also take part in the Returnable Containers Bill. As it stands right now, Bowen and Bowen, the distributor of Belikin is the only one who pay $0.25 for every glass container returned to their center. Should this Bill pass, abovementioned containers and others which would fall under law would be redeemable at a proposed $0.25. Shopkeepers or distributors who do not redeem these may be liable to a fine or imprisonment.
On Tuesday, October 13th, the Chamber of Commerce joined forces with the Association of Protected Areas Management Organization (APAMO) to voice their concerns with the Returnable Containers Bill. Amparo Masson, President of the Chamber commented, “In truth the environmental objectives of the Bill are not clear. At the same time the measures that the Bill proposes will have some costly implications to both distributors and producers.[…] The Chamber recognizes the need for a meaningful environmental bill and proposes to take this opportunity to work with the environmental organizations and government in order to develop such a bill. It is our belief that the Returnable Containers Bill in its current draft does not go far enough. It does not make mention of either plastic or recycling and therefore cannot possibly accomplish the implied goals of cleaning up country’s landscape and waterways. […] The Bill besides the environmental aspect of it is going to be costly to the distributors. I said that in my statement. It has a lot of cost implications that maybe we’re just overlooking simply because we want to get rid of the bottles and get them off the street. But will it really get it off the street, what will distributors do in terms of disposing of those bottles when you have thousands of bottles.”
Taking part in the press conference was the Belize Audubon Society (BAS) who issued a press release presenting their stance on the Bill. According to the press release, BAS is a strong supporter of legislation that will promote the reduction, reuse or recycling of our waste material as a means of addressing Belize’s solid waste problem. […] The Bill has good intentions of reducing waste; however it is very limiting. By concentrating on glass bottles and metal containers only, the Bill may result in the increased importation of beverages in aluminum cans and plastic bottles. But, importation is not BAS’s only concern; the Bill does not address the recycling or disposal of the glass containers upon their return to the distributor. Since there is no glass recycling plant within Belize, the Bill places the responsibility on the individual importers to buy back and dispose of these containers. Distributor for Heineken Beer, Karl H. Menzies, has vocally opposed the Bill claiming that it would do more harm than good. According to Kay Menzies the Bill will prove chaotic to shopkeepers who by law will now be required to buy back the containers stipulated on the bill. Managing said containers once it is in their possession will bring chaos since they will have the responsibility of returning these to their various distributors at their own cost. Menzies states that the Bill is being passed as environmental however, it lacks information on how and where these items should be recycled plus it does not discuss plastic or Styrofoam containers. “The bill could be better by addressing plastics and recycling so we totally support the Chamber’s view to do the right way,” stated Menzies to The San Pedro Sun.
According to Hilly Martinez of Belize Brewing Company they are in full support of the Bill. “There are several reasons why we agree with the Bill. Belize Brewing does pay $0.25 for the return of our glass bottles and that is the reason why these bottles do not remain on the streets, beaches or waterways. By adding a value to the bottles, people feel the need to recycle them. Should the Bill be passed I am certain that all other bottles and cans would also have a value for the public and as such will eliminate much of the garbage lining up on our land. This Bill is following in the footsteps of other Caribbean countries that have passed the same Returnable Containers Laws. I agree with the environmental organizations, plastics could be added to the Bill. As such, an amendment can be made later on but to begin tackling our environmental issue we need to start somewhere first,” he explained. As for speculation that the Bill protects Belize Brewing Company, Martinez states, “It does not protect us when we have paid the $0.25 to consumers who return their bottles. We started paying $0.05 and today we pay $0.25. Whatever broken bottles are accumulated, we send back to the supplier in Guatemala and they send to pick it up and the bottles are recycled in Guatemala. Other Belizean importers can do the same thing.”
While the Returnable Containers Bill has not been debated at the House of Representatives, all parties agreed that public consultations should be conducted.