PILED UP. Boxes of confiscated plastic bags piled up inside a room in the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP) office in Malakal. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)

The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP) had confiscated a total of 15 big boxes of prohibited imported plastic bags since last year.

Customs and Border Protection Director John Tarkong, in an interview on Friday, said that one of the challenges their office is facing in enforcing the Plastic Bag Use Reduction Act or RPPL 10-14 at their level is making the imported plastic bags easily distinguishable from biodegradable and non-biodegradable.

Tarkong urged the companies to label the plastic bags they are importing to make them identifiable as plain plastic bags, biodegradable, and compostable.

Tarkong explained that their officers will confiscate imported plastic bags that have no indication of being biodegradable.

“There should be something that labels it so that we understand. If it does not say that then that becomes a problem. So we’ve been working with the companies to try and ensure that they follow the law,” Tarkong said.

Tarkong added that the plastic bags they had confiscated so far are those that they had deemed as non-biodegradable.

The confiscated boxes of plastic bags had remained piled up inside a storage room of the BCBP as they are still looking at options on how to deal with the items. Among the options considered by the office is to ask whether the confiscated plastic bags could be recycled at the Koror State Recycling Center or if they could be imported back.

The Plastic Bag Use Reduction Act was signed by President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. on November 8, 2017 to ban stores or other retail establishments from importing or distributing bags to customers. Under the law, retail establishments are allowed only to provide biodegradable or compostable plastic bags to their customers.

The law gives a two-year transition period to allow establishments to use plastic bags within the given time following the effectivity of the law in 2017. The two-year transition will lapse on November 8, 2019. The importation of plastic bags, however, are already prohibited since the first year of the law’s effectivity.

Do not trust the label

A report by The Guardian published on April 29, 2019 said that a study conducted by the researchers from the University of Plymouth’s International Marine Litter Research Unit revealed that plastic bags labeled as biodegradable remained intact even after three years of exposure to the natural environment.

According to the report, the tested compostable bags, two forms of biodegradable bags and conventional carrier bags had not decomposed after exposure to the sea, air, and earth and can in fact still hold shopping items after the test.

The compostable bag, however, appeared to have performed better than the biodegradable bag as it was revealed through the test that the former completely disappeared after just three months of exposure to the marine environment. Researchers, however, said more work is still needed to “establish what the breakdown products are and to consider any potential environmental consequences,” the Guardian reported.