TIS supports polystyrene ban

Monday December 04, 2017 Written by Published in Environment
A seabird is surrounded by plastic, polystyrene and other rubbish that has been dumped into the ocean. 17120104 A seabird is surrounded by plastic, polystyrene and other rubbish that has been dumped into the ocean. 17120104

This weekly column is provided by Te Ipukarea Society. It deals with conservation and environmental matters of concern to the Cook Islands.



Te Ipukarea Society is proud to support the currently proposed ban on the importation of polystyrene containers to the Cook Islands.

The Society is also proud to have been highlighting and addressing the issue of polystyrene waste in the Cook Islands over the past few years.

Some of this work included increasing public awareness of the environmental and health hazards of polystyrene food containers, working alongside local businesses, some of which have now decided to stop selling polystyrene, and then working with Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI) who collected data on the amount of waste being produced and which justified the current proposal to ban single-use polystyrene. ICI has posted a media release on the ban, which explains why it is being proposed and how it will work.

As part of progressing the steps towards preventing waste generation, ICI as focal point for the Cook Islands Solid Waste Management Committee, has drafted a policy proposing to ban the importation of polystyrene takeaway containers. The committee is moving to ban these products due to the fact that they are non-biodegradable and are a threat to human health and other living things.

“It is now time to start implementing a better approach to waste management, says Joseph Brider of the National Environment Service.

“Some waste has its place here as compost or reusable items, but polystyrene takeaway containers represent a one-time use product which does not breakdown in landfills, litters our island and pollutes the ocean. Alternatives to polystyrene are available that are biodegradable and contribute positively to our national waste management goals.”

Valentino Wichman of the Ministry of Health says 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.”

On Rarotonga, one can often see polystyrene containers lying along roadsides, streams and beaches and almost always this rubbish ends up being blown into the ocean where it can badly affect bird and marine life.

“The risk posed to marine life and birds is huge” says Kelvin Passfield of 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. When the dead birds decompose, the plastic is released back into the environment to start the cycle again. 

Passfield says according to scientific reports, toxins from plastic debris in the ocean are upsetting the chemical formula of ocean water.

Says Jamie Short: “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 by creating less non-biodegradable waste at our already full landfill.”

ICI is now 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” says Short.

Most affected will be importers of goods into the Cook Islands as well as 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” says Short. 

Major importer CITC has stopped importing polystyrene containers were early supporters of the Te Ipukarea Society anti-polystyrene campaign.

Rather than waiting for the ban to take place, many event coordinators have already made the switch to using biodegradable containers and cutlery at their public events. Even the Ministry of Cultural Development, known for hosting large kaikai (feasts), has made a commitment to ditch single-use plastics and polystyrene at their cultural events.

“One of the things we are pushing for in our future events and for our food vendors are biodegradable containers.

“From 2018 we plan on using alternatives to single-use plastic and polystyrene wherever possible. Not just for our outdoors food vendors, but for events within the National auditorium, archives, library, and museum,” says Anthony Turua, secretary for the Ministry of Cultural Development.

The period for comments on the policy on November 30. So far, TIS is unaware of any negative feedback towards the proposed ban.

The policy has already been reviewed by the Solid Waste Management Committee members and will hopefully come into effect some time in 2018.



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