Chamber of commerce opposes bills to ban Styrofoam food containers, single-use plastic bags

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THE Saipan Chamber of Commerce does not support the bills that would prohibit the use of Styrofoam food containers and ban single-use plastic bags in the CNMI.

In its written comments regarding the measures, the chamber said it supports the intent of House Bill 21-89, which proposes to ban the use of disposable food containers made of expanded polystyrene or EPS, commonly known as Styrofoam.

The chamber said it acknowledges the negative impacts of petroleum-based, non-biodegradable foam on the islands’ waste system, and agrees that as a Commonwealth “we should deter the importation of Styrofoam based products.”

But rather than banning the use and importation of Styrofoam, the chamber supports “incentivizing wholesalers and businesses to import biodegradable, environment-friendly products through tax incentives. Because these items are more costly to purchase and import, providing tax relief would make the products’ cost more comparable to Styrofoam, which ultimately leads to less cost on the end consumer — our people.”

The chamber also calls for more outreach to members of the public to educate them on the benefits of changing behavior to support initiatives that are more environmentally conscious.

“Joeten Enterprises’ ‘Taya Plastic Tuesday,’ along with their mass production of reusable bags is a great example of a business leading the way to help encourage the public to change their behavior,” the chamber said.

The chamber is “proud to support a bill that will lead to a healthier, more socially conscious island.”

Authored by Rep. Ivan Blanco, House Bill 21-89 is now with the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism chaired by Rep. Leepan Guerrero.

In a separate written comment, the chamber said it opposes Sen. Vinnie Sablan’s Senate Bill 21-37, which proposes to ban the importation, production, distribution and use of single-use plastic bags in the Commonwealth.

The chamber said it commends the intent of the bill but “respectfully” opposes it.

At the same time, the chamber recommends changes to the bill, and the inclusion of language that clearly states that compliance enforcers would only search public areas of the business establishments.”

The bill would impose fines on violators — $250 per day from date of notice of violation for first offense; $500 for second offense; $1,000 for third offense; and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

The chamber said it believes that the bill does not allow for due process. “A first violation should be followed by an initial citation instead of an immediate fine. A citation, similar to a traffic ticket, would allow alleged violators the ability to appeal should they be wrongly accused. Without due process, there is the ability for enforcement abuse and targeted actions.”

The chamber also recommends that penalties for violations should be a one-time penalty per violation as opposed to a day-by-day penalty as stated in the bill.

“A ‘by-day’ penalty would be difficult to enforce as regulators may not be able to immediately return to business establishments to determine that the violation is ongoing. To alleviate these possible issues, penalties should be issued per violation,” the chamber said.

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