Every year six billion tonnes of non-durable plastic – that’s plastic that has a useful life of less than three years – ends up in the world’s landfills.
Every time you use a plastic rubbish bag, plastic cutlery at the market, or a plastic cup, you are contributing to this six billion tonnes of waste, 8.8 million tonnes of which ends up in our oceans and endangers over 700 marine species (see onegreenplanet.org for more info).
The reason these plastic products are so bad for our environment is because they are made from a product called polystyrene.
Polystyrene also is made into a foam material, commonly called Styrofoam which is valued for its insulating and cushioning properties. Foam polystyrene can be more than 95 per cent air and is the material that goes into making the white foam takeaway containers we see on our island. Not only does Styrofoam take hundreds of years to breakdown, but it cannot be recycled into anything else except more Styrofoam. While recycling facilities for Styrofoam exist in some major cities around the world, it is so expensive and so toxic to recycle that most of it ends up simply being thrown away.
Making a conscious effort to find alternatives to plastic is one of the most important things we can do to protect our environment and the animals that inhabit it alongside us.
A great solution to replace plastic plates and utensils is using biodegradable or compostable products. Some of the advantages of using biodegradable or compostable products include:
1. They take much less time to breakdown when they are discarded
2. They are made from biomass, an organic compound that is not only plentiful but entirely renewable (source materials include bamboo fibre, potato starch, and corn starch)
3. The manufacturing process of them is far more environmentally friendly and they require less energy to produce than plastic products
4. They are not toxic and harmful to both your health and the environment when they breakdown like plastic does
5. There is less dependence on fossil fuels, particularly oil, when using biodegradable products
Rarotonga’s largest business chain, CITC, no longer sells polystyrene containers as they are aware of the environmental impacts to our island when these kinds of materials are thrown away. They do, on the other hand, stock biodegradable containers, and many of their regular customers have switched over to this new environmentally friendly alternative.
Prime Foods supermarket on Rarotonga has also joined the trend. Their latest Prime Foods Night Market, organised by BTIB, has increased the number of food vendors using biodegradable containers. A Prime Foods representative gave us the following comment:
“A couple of years ago we brought in large polystyrene food containers, but we stopped after we were educated on the negative effects that these trays have on the environment.
“We recently worked with BITB on the Prime Foods night market. Our aim was to have all vendors use biodegradable containers which worked well on the night. We have been working with our suppliers on the production and supply of biodegradable containers for our customers and also biodegradable butchery meat and veggie trays.
“… the prospect of moving to biodegradable products has been our goal since we stopped bringing in polystyrene containers. We hope to have our new biodegradable range available in the next 3-6 months.”
We congratulate these two prominent businesses to taking the lead on phasing out selling takeaway containers and bringing in biodegradable alternatives. We would also like to acknowledge the other local businesses known to be selling biodegradable containers, which include Vonnia’s and Bounty Bookshop. A special mention goes to the Araura College enviro-squad who we know have brought in biodegradable containers to Aitutaki and have promoted them to local food vendors on their island. And of course, our local food vendors who have already made the switch to biodegradables, meitaki ma’ata for supporting to keep our islands beautiful and reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill.
The recent Prime Foods night market has shown us that large Cook Islands events can replace plastic and foam containers with biodegradable alternatives. Hopefully organisers of future events can ban the use of plastics so we can keep our islands beautiful.
So the next time you’re at the market deciding what your next meal is going to be, spare a thought for the environment and choose the delicious food being served in a biodegradable container!