Haitians ignore gov't ban on plastic bags

AP News
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Posted: Oct 01, 2012 1:06 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian merchants on Monday ignored the first day of a government ban on the sale and general use of plastic bags and foam food containers.

In a busy, crowded market in the community of Petionville, dozens of vendors openly sold the tightly rolled bags and big packages of to-go food containers without apparent concern they would be stopped. Some said they will keep peddling the goods if the government doesn't provide alternative jobs. Others said they will sell something else if the government enforces the ban.

"It's fine if the government wants to ban the containers but it also needs to create an alternative," said Innocent Petit-Frere, a 57-year-old vendor who, like many others, buys the foam containers from the neighboring Dominican Republic in bulk. He sells packages of 100 containers for $6.87.

Petit-Frere wondered how people would be able to eat meals on the go without access to the containers, of the type used by fast-food restaurants. "You have to eat, and you just can't put the food on the ground," he said from his store as co-workers piled bags of imported rice.

The office of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe announced the ban in August. The goal is to clear some of the litter that is strewn across Port-au-Prince and clogs drainage channels critical to prevent flooding. The measure will most certainly affect Haiti's poor majority, many of whom make a living by selling the bags and boxes on the streets.

It's unclear how the government plans to enforce the ban or if violators face penalties. Customs officials can confiscate the bags and Styrofoam boxes if they seize them on the border.

The prime minister's office didn't immediately respond to questions. Minister of Environment Jean Vilmond Hilaire couldn't be reached for comment.

Bag seller Ovinthe Aristide said he hopes to sell his remaining plastic bags before authorities attempt to crack down and if the ban is enforced he'll look for something else to sell.