Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) technical director Kelvin Passfield says plastic bag waste remains a major problem in the Cook Islands and needs immediate attention.
According to a report produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and published by the World Economic Forum, plastic waste may overtake the fish population in the next 34 years.
“Plastic bag waste is a real problem in the Cook Islands as well. Although I believe all plastic shopping bags are meant to be biodegradable by law in the Cook Islands now, it is not easy to tell if they are in fact biodegradable,” Passfield said.
“And the fact that something is genuinely biodegradable does not mean it is that great either. For example, if it takes 300 years to break down that is not good. Bags defined as compostable may be better.”
Passfield says the best solution is to take re-useable shopping bags on trips to the supermarkets.
“CITC encourages this by charging 20 cents for each shopping bag you use. Other retailers should follow this lead and charge at least 20 cents for a shopping bag, to help reduce the amount of bags that end up in our ocean.”
The study, released this week, found that a staggering 32 per cent of all plastic packaging escapes collection systems and finds its way into natural ecosystems, including the oceans.
It generates significant economic costs by reducing the productivity of vital natural systems such as the ocean, and clogging urban infrastructure.
The cost of plastic packaging causing environmental and other problems, and the costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions from its production, are conservatively estimated at $61 billion annually, exceeding the plastic packaging industry’s profit pool, the study claims.
Currently, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year - the equivalent of a dump truck of plastic rubbish every minute.
At the current rate, this is expected to increase by two trucks a minute by 2030 and four trucks a minute by 2050.
The report says the use of plastic bags has increased by 20 times in the past 50 years.
Most plastic packaging is used only once then discarded with one-third of all plastic packaging escapes collection systems.
Only 40 per cent of plastics end up in landfills while only five per cent of plastics are efficiently recycled.
The forum also states plastics production will increase to 1.124 billion tonnes by 2050.