As mentioned in CI News earlier this week, the Muri Night Market operates four nights a week, and generates a large amount of waste that ends up in our landfill.
In particular foam (also known as Styrofoam or polystyrene) clam shell style containers make up a very large percentage of the volume of the total waste generated. Styrofoam has significant disposal and recycling issues.
Products made from polystyrene are intended for one-time use, but do not decompose and will therefore be around forever. Discarded polystyrene products are often not placed into bins and end up as litter in the lagoon.
Even if people try to do the right thing and place them in the proper bins, the polystyrene containers and cups are so lightweight that they are often blow away with even a slight breeze. If they are burned they release toxic chemicals such as benzene.
Benzene is released as a gas when polystyrene products are burned at low temperatures, such as those achieved in backyard burning situations. Benzene is a known human carcinogen and can lead to anemia. Styrene gas can also be released when these products are burned, and can cause permanent damage to the central nervous system.
The Te Uki Ou fundraising venture offers hungry market visitors an alternative to these foam containers. They can get a plate, cutlery, and serviette from the rent a plate stall. There is no fixed charge for the plates and cutlery, and customers are asked just for a gold coin donation. Funds raised will go to school projects.
The venture has gained support from Te Ipukarea Society, which has donated the marquee and the banner to advertise the service. The funds for this are coming from a Global Environment Facility (GEF) small grant project through UNDP. This project aims to reduce waste in the Cook Islands by replacing the Styrofoam containers with biodegradable containers made from bamboo or sugar cane fibre, as well as promoting the use of reusable plates and containers.
This will be done mainly at the Muri Night Market and Punanga Nui Market, but also extend to all food vendors here in Rarotonga and the outer islands. At the Punanga Nui Market the place to buy the biodegradable containers is at the Vaine Angaanga Toa stall. Araura College in Aitutaki has already taken the lead in making sure food vendors at the school use biodegradable containers, thanks to the initiative of their Enviro-Squad.
Another part of the project will be providing compost bins and worm farms to all Cook Island schools, and promoting them as a method to dispose of food scraps and garden waste. Additional support has been received from the New Zealand High Commission through providing more worm farms.
The Te Uki Ou venture has also received support from CITC with the kind donation of the plates to be rented. Hori Signs also provide the signage at a discounted rate.
The challenge now is for the Te Uki Ou venture to try and make a profit after taking into account the cost of renting the stall space.