A number of people have written to CINews recently about the prevalence of dangerous plastic fires on the island and the issue has also been highlighted on social media. It is common practice for some residents to dig pits on their properties and indiscriminately burn all manner of refuse.
A Community Health Services spokesperson says following a two-step warning and educational process, if an offender continues the highly toxic and environmentally-unsafe practice, big fines will result.
Although they admit to never having served a notice to take legal action for the burning of plastic, Community Health has, however, enforced fines for other unsafe waste management practices.
The burning of plastics and tyres is not permitted under the Public Health Act, 2004, and can be punished with a fine of up to $1,000 for occupiers of residential properties, and up to a $10,000 for businesses.
Action is first taken in the form of a “precautionary notice,” the spokesman says.
To combat the ongoing environmental and health hazard, Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI) are also looking to bolster legislation around recycling, recommending that it become compulsory under a new Solid Waste Act.
This follows recent confirmation from ICI that Rarotonga’s landfill is full, and that they are now looking at options to either expand their current operation at Arorangi, or continue at a new site further up the valley.
Meanwhile, Cook Islands Infrastructure’s Water Waste and Sanitation (WATSAN) director, Jamie Short says plastic is continuing to be baled and stockpiled for shipping. The last shipment went to Malaysia earlier this year.
Apart from encouraging the responsible disposal of waste, compulsory recycling will also act as a deterrent against the illegal burning of plastic products, Short says.
A recent case highlighted the issue for both locals and visitors when people attending a conference at the National Auditorium were affected by toxic smoke from a fire on a nearby property.
“Many participants in the room experienced burning in their eyes and throats or headaches following exposure to the smoke,” said one of the attendees from New Zealand, Alfred “Bubba” Cook.
An ongoing case of a neighbour indiscriminately burning plastic, despite multiple complaints, also featured on the Facebook page Rarotonga Community and Beyond.
The upset resident took to Facebook to vent their frustration regarding a neighbour, who for over eight years, had allegedly regularly set fire to a stockpile of plastic rubbish, burning it off in a highly toxic blaze and putting their health and those of people living in the vicinity, at risk.
A Community Health Services representative says they have since spoken to the person concerned to better educate them on how to responsibly dispose of rubbish.
However, this case was only followed up by the department after it was publicised on Facebook.
According to other postings on the page, the sight of plastic and other recyclable items being kept for burning is all too common around the island.
Meanwhile, the Community Health Services spokesperson says if anyone wishes to make a complaint regarding the burning of plastic, tyres, or any other unsafe waste management practices, they should contact them on 29110.