Libby-Ann Sahadeo packs groceries into a reusable bag when a new initiative was rolled out on March 11 to limit the use of plastic bags by shoppers.
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
Customers threatened to call police, accused supermarkets of price gouging and raised many questions, but for the most part many bought into the new initiative to limit the use of plastic bags and encourage reusable bags at major shopping centers.
The initiative kicked in yesterday, March 11 and customers who opted to use plastic bags were being charged 15 cents per bag, a move that is expected to deter their use which advocates say is adversely impacting the Virgin Islands environment.
At Bobby´s Supermarket in Road Town, 11 year-old Libby-Ann Sahadeo assisted her father fit items into their newly purchased reusable bags.
"Plastic bags are bad for the environment and the reusable bags are good. I want to save the environment," Sahadeo related. At Bobby´s, customers still opted for plastic bags while others returned to their vehicles for the reusable bags once they were told that the plastic bags will cost 15 cents per bag.
At Riteway Supermarket at Pasea, plastic bags were no longer visible at the cashiers´ counter. They were hidden and were only produced when a customer agreed to pay the 15 cents.
Cashiers gave away free reusable bags during the morning period, but they came under heavy questioning from customers.
Three of the cashiers related that 1 in every 10 shopper would resist having to buy the reusable bags or having to pay for the use of the plastic bags.
Cashiers stated that they spent time explaining why the initiative was being undertaken and while customers agreed that it was good for the environment they were not pleased that the alternative was the 15 cents per plastic bag.
Cashiers related that one customer accused the Riteway of having enough money and 15 cents more was adding to the profit margin.
Another cashier related that a customer threatened to call police to have her arrested as he was being robbed while another said he will return to use plastic bags at no additional cost.
Small items were carried out by hand and in some cases, shoppers opted to use empty boxes provided by the store.
Over at One Mart at Purcell, Vice-President, Judith Vanterpool led the public relations campaign by interacting with customers about the initiative and helping to calm things when they got heated.
She related that for the most part, customers were compliant.
"Most of the shoppers have been ladies and they have been very responsive, very pleasant and very cooperative. They are saying that they do have reusable bags, but they left them at home so I am encouraging them to bring them to the store. The highlight for me today...I was in the parking lot and I asked a lady if she had the reusable bag and she said she had them in the back of her vehicle, but never remembered to bring them into the store," Vanterpool stated.
According to Vanterpool, "There was a gentleman who was very resistant and he decided to take a shopping basket with him, but I wheeled it to his car and explained why we are going into the reusable bags; it´s not about the 15 cents so I offered him a box which I packed myself. He left and said 'this is Tortola where you all going with that' and I told him we are moving forward and explained more about the dangers of the plastic bag and he left with a note that he still loves me."
Asked if shoppers may have forgotten the date for the implementation of the initiative, Vanterpool said many have promised to bring their bags the next time they shop. Vanterpool pointed out that those who did not remember said it will not hurt them to buy another reusable bag.
"All in all it is going to be a very positive move, but it all depends on the type of customer service we give. Instead of focusing on the 15 cents let´s focus on the reusable bags. Many people are willing to buy their bags and I think it will be an education and we need to continue to coach the people instead of stick it down their throat," Vanterpool suggested.
Asked about providing boxes for shoppers, Vanterpool replied, "We have done our due diligence and we notice that the customers are happy to take their goods in boxes and it is part of recycling as well so we decided to use some of the boxes in the same way instead of throwing them out once the customer is happy with that.
At least one shopper that spoke to BVI Platinum News did not wait for the initiative to be implemented. Geli Maynard has lived in the BVI for over 33 years and for the past five years she brought about six reusable bags from Europe and insist on using them when she shops.
"I am a diver and snorkeler and I am appalled by what I see in the ocean...too much garbage. Wherever I snorkel in the past few years it doesn´t matter which beach there is plastic at the bottom and bottles and its obviously dangerous for wildlife. It´s also very ugly for us to see what we are leaving for our children. I am 150% right behind this initiative," Maynard stated.
Shoppers opt for boxes at Riteway Supermarket.
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
Asked about her advice to other shoppers, Maynard said, "Frankly I would say look at the bigger picture; look at the future and anybody with children or who has children in their family should look at what we are leaving behind; we need to stop this use of plastic because it does not decompose easily."
The initiative is spearheaded by WorldHouse Caribbean (WHC), founded by Sophia Bain and Dalan Vanterpool and includes Green VI and retailers.
WHC has indicated that among the retailers are Buck's Wholesale, Rosy's Supermarket, OneMart Supermarket, Roadtown Wholesale Trading, Bobby's Supermarket, AValue Supermarket, Quomar Trading and Supa Valu.
WHC stated that one plastic bag takes 1,000 years to break down into smaller, less disruptive particles. During this time, WHC pointed out, the environment suffers and communities endure the damage that results.
"These effects include blocked drains that can cause flooding, disappearing marine life and dangerous asthma-causing chemicals that are released by incinerating plastic waste," WHC stated.
The group, which advocates for public environmental education and sets tangible goals to preserve the BVI's environment and natural resources for current and future generations, stated that they continue to work with organizations, businesses, schools and concerned citizens to campaign for the BVI's transition to environmental accountability.