Over the past five years or so, there has been a heightened level of awareness among the people of the Cook Islands about plastic rubbish.
A great innovation picked up by the major retailers is to charge shoppers for plastic shopping bags, and this has reduced the amount of plastic bags in the landfill dramatically. While this is great progress, we believe it is time to take things to the next level.
Take a walk along a rocky beach on the windward side of the island, say between Tupapa and Turangi, and look at the most common type of rubbish you find on the high-tide mark. Chances are very high it is single-use plastic drink bottles.
The majority of plastic bottles around the world are used for drinking water. This is a relatively new trend.
Even in Rarotonga in the late 1980s and 90s, very few people were buying drinking water in single-use bottles. In fact, most people just drank from the tap!
Now, with an increased concern about getting sick from contaminated water, so much of the population are drinking from plastic water bottles. Global plastic production has more than tripled in these past 30 years. But what about the impact on the environment?
This concern for water safety is having a large impact on the health of Mother Nature. And let’s face it, can we really be healthy if our mother earth is not?
So what can we do to help? One very obvious move is to stop buying drinking water in single-use plastic bottles. Always remember to take a reusable water bottle with you, and fill it from one of the many drinking water stations around Rarotonga. Or boil water at home to fill your bottle.
This is not only good for the environment, but also good for your pocket. If you normally buy just one $2 bottle of water each day, using a reusable water bottle over one year can save you enough money for a return airfare to Auckland!
You can also encourage the 160,000 visitors that now come to our shores annually to do the same.
If you are the type of person who likes soft drinks, consider buying them in aluminium cans rather than plastic. Aluminium has a value for recycling, so can be profitably shipped off to New Zealand.
This was demonstrated very well by Father Glover of the Avarua Catholic Church more than 25 years ago, when he had collection points around the island for aluminium cans, which he then crushed and sent to New Zealand to raise money for the church. Cook Islands General Transport will be happy to accept any aluminium cans!
You should also talk to your local Member of Parliament, and ask them to support any moves to initiate a container deposit system. This is basically a refund that you can get if you take your water bottle to a recycling centre.
By creating a value for what was previously considered worthless rubbish, we can stop these items entering the landfill, or worse still ending up on our beaches and in our ocean.
It could also be a great fundraising opportunity for schools – and would also generate enough money to pay for shipping these bottles to a place where they can be recycled. The good news on this front is that Infrastructure Cook Islands has just this week welcomed a New Zealand Volunteer to work with stakeholders to help sort out the details for the container deposit system as a part of a comprehensive advance disposal fee, as well as helping with other parts of our solid waste management strategy.