Protecting the nature we all rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods

Plastic ban — why you shouldn’t worry

© CI/Edgardo Ochoa

ABOVE: Plastic marine pollution clings to the shore in Panama.

(This is CI Samoa's twenty-second (22) article published by the Samoa Observer.)

With Samoa now a little over a week into the nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags and straws, many are left wondering just what the future of Samoa will bring.

With many still a little skeptical towards the move to phase out single-use plastics, it is understandable that many are feeling uneasy because, well, big changes do bring with it much uncertainty.

How will we cope with no plastic after using it for so long? What alternatives are available for us and the private sector? How will this affect our cost of living? And so on. These are only a few, rightfully asked, questions tossed around official and social media platforms.

But before our skeptical few band together and grab pitchforks, let’s take a small trip around the world to see just how our fellow plastic-ban nations are faring with their decision.

First stop, Kenya!

Kenya imposed a drastic ban on plastic bags on the 28th August 2017 — where a tough penalty fine of USD$40,000 (About SAT105,000), or up to four years of imprisonment, was given to anyone caught producing, selling, or even carrying a plastic bag.

Although there would have been much skepticism in Kenya during the early periods of the ban, the Guardian reported that, only eight months into the ban, Kenya’s “waterways are clearer and the food chain is less contaminated with plastic” along with other environmental and social improvements.

According to Kenya’s Enforcement Director of the National Environment Management Authority, David Ong’are, who was also quoted in the above-mentioned article published by the Guardian, there have been so many benefits due to the ban.

“Our streets are generally cleaner which has brought with it a general ‘feel-good’ factor,” he said in the article.  “You no longer see carrier bags flying around when its windy. Waterways are less obstructed. Fishermen on the coast and Lake Victoria are seeing fewer bags entangled in their nets.”

Ong’are also explained that they used to find plastic in the guts of roughly three out of every ten animals taken to slaughter (30 per cent of animals with plastic in their guts) — this has gone down to one (now 10 per cent of animals with plastic in guts).

Similarly, due to much of our plastic waste ending up in our oceans, many studies have found micro-plastic particles in a diverse range of marine life such as fish, seabirds, turtles, whales, dolphins and corals — so terrestrial livestock aren’t the only ones affected in this way.

Now let’s bring our travels a little closer to home. Next stop, Australia!

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) banned plastic bag usage back in 2011, with many other territories also joining in more recently.

According to the ACT online site, due to the ban, there was an overall reduction in the volume of plastic bag waste going to landfill by around one-third. This was attributed to a behavioral change by shoppers reducing plastic bag use.

There are many other places with similar plastic-ban success stories. These include a handful of states in the USA, Karnataka-India, Chile, United Kingdom and China — with more planning to join soon, such as New Zealand.

Our fellow Pacific Island nations have also been proactive, for instance, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and Niue have made similar bans in their own island nations and have been doing well since. Many other Island nations plan to join them soon. Fiji is one Island nation who recently announced their plastic-ban plans to be imposed by the year 2020, strengthening action following on from their current nationwide plastic levy initiative that has been running for some time now.

Now our journey brings us back home to Samoa. Although our island does not generate significant plastic waste, when compared to much larger nations, our plastic waste still contributes to the degradation of our environment, resulting in adverse effects on our well-being.

The Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Leota Kosi Latu, added that “SPREP would like to congratulate the Government and people of Samoa on taking initiative in banning single-use plastic bags and straws. It is a continuing show of Pacific leadership and commitment to addressing the problem of plastic pollution and marine litter.”

Leota continued to add that a survey in Samoa on waste composition and clean-up data in 2016 found that 56 per cent of litter collected was plastic — and that 75 per cent of these plastics can be classified as single used plastics.

Furthermore, a survey on waste generation and composition of waste that ends up at the Tafaigata landfill that was done in 2011 and 2017 clearly emphasized the significant increase in wastes from 26,000 tons per annum in 2011 to 32,850 tons per annum in 2017.

A significant increase of 21 per cent waste generation within six years with about 27 per cent of the waste generated being plastic. It was estimated that about 9000 tons of plastic is generated in one year. This data amount is significant and canvasses the degree of pollution caused by plastics.

“As Leota points out, we are doing our bit, and as we move forward, it reminds me of a quote from a wise scholar that we don’t have to get it perfect right away ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’,” adds Conservation International Pacific Island Marine Programme Director, Schannel van Dijken. “This first step in banning plastic is not going be perfect. It’s a great first step and as we know it will develop, grow, and continue to have more positive impact on our lives and environment.

“People are already starting to change their behavior, and I love walking into stores and seeing people walk in with their own re-usable bags. Well done Samoa, well done to the Government of Samoa, well done SPREP, and well done to all the other organizations that have helped bring rubbish and waste to the forefront of our minds — such as ProGreen Samoa and other youth groups, and all the partners in the Va’a based environmental education “Guardians” campaign — Youth Climate Action network, Samoa Conservation Society and the Samoa Voyaging Society.

It’s through everyone and every group working together in Samoa that we can instigate such long lasting change.”

So, looking at these success stories around the world (more success stories can be found online) and with so many places also planning to ban plastic, Samoa has nothing to worry about regarding the plastic ban. If anything, this is a great first step towards beating plastic and we can all look forward to a cleaner Samoa with a more “feel-good” atmosphere.

And we can also look forward to fewer micro-plastic-filled livestock and fish to eat — if we don’t like eating plastic in our food, I am sure marine and terrestrial animals don’t either.

So, support the ban and let’s beat plastic together Samoa!