Jermin’s Enterprise: Promoting an environmentally sound substitute to polystyrene food containers

An assortment of the biodegradable food containers being marketed by Jermins’s Enterprise.

Since its launch last year at GuyExpo, Jermin’s Enterprise has been aggressively marketing a product which, in our particular circumstances, ought to attract some measure of interest on the local market. The company is seeking to secure consumer interest in doing more to tackle what has become a considerable environmental fallout from the sustained use of polystyrene food containers.
Polystyrene packaging has proven to be convenient to the ‘take away’ industry, whether it be midday lunches, snack packs or weekend barbecues, but the containers have become an environmental nightmare.

The problem that these receptacles pose has to do with the fact that their users, in a distressingly high number of instances, are indiscriminate dumpers. Having served their purpose the containers are dumped anywhere: in canals, drains, alleyways and often on major roadways. During dry periods they are disfigured, discoloured pieces of garbage that constitute a hideous eyesore. But when the rains come they become downright dangerous. In their non-biodegradable condition they clog the city’s arteries and contribute to the accumulation of floodwater.

An assortment of the biodegradable food containers being marketed by Jermins’s Enterprise.
An assortment of the biodegradable food containers being marketed by Jermins’s Enterprise.

Both central government and City Hall frown on the indiscriminate disposal of polystyrene food containers. The problem, it would seem, is that the containers have attracted a sufficiently large market in the local food industry to afford them a lobbying power of their own. Despite the environmental consequences of their indiscriminate disposal, polystyrene containers persist in their popularity. There has been talk aplenty about at least restricting their importation but that is as far as it has gotten: talk.

Administrative Manager of Jermin’s Aduni Simon says the company wants to do a great deal more than talk about the problem. She says Jermin Culley, the company’s Guyanese-born, US-based owner was inspired to launch the initiative by the high-profile environmental lobby that coincided with the administration of former president Bharrat Jagdeo. Not that the advent of the company has not been a response to a market opportunity, though she insists that it seeks to contribute to raising the level of environmental awareness by making consumers aware of the importance of choosing biodegradable containers.

Since GuyExpo, the company has been able to make modest inroads into the local market though Simon admits that polystyrene containers have become sufficiently entrenched on the local market to make the promotion of her company’s more environmentally friendly replacement a formidable challenge. She admits that comparisons between Jermin’s biodegradable containers and their polystyrene opposite numbers have given rise to interesting choices. The cardboard, biodegradable food boxes must be folded; their polystyrene counterparts are solid boxes. Take away consumers are attracted to the sturdiness of the polystyrene containers, pointing out, particularly, that the folded boxes are vulnerable to leaks in cases where menus include stews and sauces.

Manufacturers, however, have been seeking to respond to this concern by seeking to remedy that limitation and Simon says that Jermin’s has acquired a new reinforced biodegradable container which it is now seeking to promote on the local market.

Insisting that her mission is “more than just selling a product”, Simon has told Stabroek Business that the company’s proprietor has taken a decision to re-launch the initiative shortly. She says that while the launch will see Jermin’s offering consumers “a different product” it is also taking seriously the opportunity which the re-launch affords to change attitudes and raise awareness. “We are hoping to target a market that includes public officials, the municipality, the entertainment industry, schoolchildren and ordinary workers,” among others, she says.

What the company is hoping is that the major users of the polystyrene containers will become part of a crusade “to take a step that will be good for Guyana” without believing that it does harm to their business.

Accordingly, the re-launch of the company’s biodegradable products will take the form of a public event that will focus on ways in which persons can contribute to the creation of a more environmentally conscious society. “We are hoping to attract an audience that ranges from schoolchildren to businessmen and women so that at the end of the event we would have sold an important idea rather than just a product,” Simon says.

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