The problem with plastic

Monday July 06, 2020 Written by Published in Environment
More than 170 people turned out to the World Oceans Day Muri Beach Clean Up on Saturday. Danilo Reyes/Island 20062931 More than 170 people turned out to the World Oceans Day Muri Beach Clean Up on Saturday. Danilo Reyes/Island 20062931

In an effort to reduce the use of a range of plastics on Rarotonga, Te Ipukarea Society is calling for everyone to play their part and participate in Plastic Free July. 

Plastic is everywhere.

On the roadsides, spewing out of public rubbish bins, on supermarket shelves and in our oceans.

Micro-plastics have even been found inside humans.

Anyone who has seen images of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, located between Hawaii and California, knows that plastics and other non-biodegradable products are not problems that are exclusive to the Cook Islands.

In fact, there are currently five large masses of plastic waste in oceans across the globe.

Plastic normally takes up to 1000 years to decompose.

Taking that into consideration, it would be fair to assume that there are still pieces of the first man-made plastic invented by British inventor Alexander Parkes in 1862, floating around among the five trillion other pieces of plastic that litter the ocean.

However, the importation of non-biodegradable consumer goods is becoming a mounting burden for the Cook Islands’ economy, human health and the environment.

As part of progressing steps to preventing waste accumulation Infrastructure Cook Islands and the Cook Islands Solid Waste Management committee submitted a policy to ban the importation of a single use plastic products to Cabinet.

In June 2019 the policy to ban a list of single use plastics was approved by Cabinet. 

It was expected to be passed into law by mid this year, but unfortunately, due to Covid-19 the consultation on a draft Bill has not occurred yet. 

The policy also included provision for an Advanced Disposal Fee which enables a small fee to be added to the cost of a product at the point of purchase, which then goes towards the management of its disposal - the cost of recycling or sending offshore or even a bottle return scheme.    

The ban had the full support of local companies, including major importers of single use plastics, such as major retailer CITC.

Cook Islands was set to become the eighth country in the Pacific island region to ban single use plastics.

Three fish aggregation devices, one motorcycle helmet, a catapult, lots of lost jandals and lego were just some of the interesting items found during World Oceans Day Muri Beach Clean Up on Saturday last week. 

Led by Te Ipukarea Society and Muri Environment Care Group, at least 170 people turned out and showed commitment in the community towards looking after the lagoon and wildlife. 

But, 21 sacks filled with plastic bottles gathered during the clean-up, more than half of the total amount of general waste collected, identifies a growing problem on Rarotonga - disposal of plastics and recycling.

To address this massive issue with plastic, Kate McKessar said Te Ipukarea Society is running a campaign to encourage everyone to pledge to give up one single use plastic item for the month of July. 

“This could be just one thing or it could be a lot!” she says.

“It’s a personal challenge to start a global change.”

Schools might choose to focus on waste free lunches, office staff may pledge to bring reusable water bottles to work and cafes might offer a discount for bringing reusable coffee or smoothie cups.

Reefside is going one step further and offering glass jars for smoothies and discounts on hot drinks if a customer takes in their own reusable cup.

On Saturday people reported back that there appeared to be less rubbish around on the motu than at last year's clean-up. 

This could possibly be attributed to there being less tourists on the island. 

McKessar says they were grateful to Infrastructure Cook Islands who collected the separated rubbish for the second time running.

Infrastructure Cook Islands secretary Diane Charlie-Puna says although the landfill is “a growing monster” she wants to encourage people to continue to separate their recyclables – plastic, glass, paper and tins – from their general waste.

The Ariki Adventures crew focused on Avana harbour and up to Avana point and did find a dozen tyres, remnants of a boat on Motu Tapu, roofing iron and a lot of discarded plastic wrappers and plastic bottles up where surfers and picnickers access the point, McKessar says.

Ariki Adventures spotted a new three finned turtle they hadn’t seen before and called it Stumpy. 

“This area used to be a turtle breeding site but is no longer due to various factors including climate change, habitat loss and light pollution,” she said.

McKessar says they asked everyone to focus on microplastics - these are the tiny pieces of plastic of that are often overlooked and become food for fish, sea animals and seabirds. 

“Heaps of people especially the kids with their eagle eyes found these teeny pieces of plastic,” she says.

“We hope this will become an annual event and should also inspire other beach clean-ups throughout the year across the Cook Islands.”

Te Ipukarea Society has made an advertisement for Plastic Free July with volunteer help from musician Jim Perkins,  Mo from Motone Productions, Tokerau Jim and students from Apii Avarua which can be viewed here:   

They will be using Faceboook and Instagram to promote schools, individuals and businesses around Rarotonga who are joining in on the Plastic Free July campaign.

“Our environment simply cannot continue to service these bottles and other plastics being added to our landfill,” she says. 

“Let's do something about it!”

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