Cook Islands Infrastructure’s Water Waste and Sanitation (WATSAN) director Jamie Short says the proposed ban is part of ICI’s progressive steps to curb the generation of waste on Rarotonga and the outer-islands.
She says the move shouldn’t be a price concern for food vendors as price comparisons for eco-friendlier choices show that the cost difference is only a few cents per container.
Other non-government committee members have done plenty of work over the years to encourage the public to choose eco-friendly containers, she adds.
“Polystyrene products are non-biodegradable and a threat to human health and other living things.”
Says Ministry of Health secretary Valentino Wichman: “It has been often reported that when polystyrene comes into contact with hot or acidic food and beverages, the ingredients in the container, which are petroleum-based, leach into the food or drink.
In addition to this, burning polystyrene pollutes the air with toxic fumes.
“This of course poses a risk to the health of people.”
Short says Polystyrene containers can often be seen littering roadsides, streams and beaches, especially on Rarotonga, and they will almost always end up being blown into the ocean where they are highly detrimental to sea life.
“The risk posed to marine life and birds is huge” says Kelvin Passfield of the local environmental group, Te Ipukarea Society.
“Polystyrene breaks into smaller pieces and can be consumed by marine creatures and birds.
“The ingredients, of course, are then absorbed into their bodies and we then consume the fish! Birds cannot digest the plastic rubbish and end up starving to death with bellies full of plastic.”
Short says it is a local issue with global consequences.
“According to scientific reports in the media we now hear that toxins from plastic debris in the ocean is upsetting the chemical formula of ocean water.
There are apparently patches of floating plastic waste so dense that people can actually walk on it.
“Since there are biodegradable and safe alternatives, polystyrene takeaway containers are an easy commodity to do away with and with all the dangers they pose, it is a sensible move. In addition to preventing the risk to the ocean and its life, we also benefit from less non-biodegradable waste at our already full landfill.”
Short says the country’s largest importer, CITC, has already stopped importing polystyrene containers and were early supporters of an anti-polystyrene campaign led by Te Ipukarea Society.
“ICI is currently having legislation drafted including a Solid Waste Act that will fill existing gaps in legislation pertaining to waste.
“We intend to place the polystyrene ban under this Act if appropriate. However, our legal drafters will advise the best way forward given that other Acts allow prohibitions”.
She says sectors of the community that will be affected are the importers and some market vendors, and to a lesser extent, fundraising groups.
“Many market vendors and fundraiser groups have already switched to the eco-friendly containers which is a great thing to see” adds Short.
“All policies need to go through consultation and we will of course be providing an opportunity for the public and key sectors to make comment and have a discussion about the proposed ban.”
The draft policy is available to download at http://ici.gov.ck/waste and has been circulated to the key sector members via email and are available at the Punanga Nui office.
The policy has already been reviewed by Solid Waste Management Committee members.