Kelvin Passfield, technical director for the society, says polystyrenes and other unrecyclable plastic products often associated with Christmas are having an effect on the environment.
“A lot of the families coming back are bringing in polystyrene chilly bins full of food products from New Zealand.”
“I understand that it’s probably cheaper from there but they don’t need to bring it in polystyrene because they won’t take it back with them when they leave I’m sure. So it’s going to be left in the island” says Passfield.
“A lot of rubbish toys that people buy their kids - that will really only last two days if you’re lucky, will end up in the rubbish.”
Te Ipukarea’s project officer, Katy McKessar, says there are plenty of crafty, fun and educational alternatives for families looking for more eco-friendly options.
“You can make decorations for your tree; it doesn’t have to be plastic balls. It’s actually nice to engage the family in making decorations that they can reuse.”
The country’s plastic waste crisis is an issue local businesses are taking heed of too including Rarotonga’s largest retailer, Cook Islands Trading Corporation, which made moves to ban plastic straws two years ago.
Catherine Ben-Nicholas, founder for the compostable food packaging store The Pak Man in Avarua says, “Our people have really embraced it, so all the businesses have embraced the idea too.”
“Everyone wants to go eco (friendly) and are doing their best to help convert our people. You still have the odd vendors who just can’t see past polystyrene and what-not.”
“But it’s a work in progress. This is not going to happen overnight.”
Meanwhile, Government moves to ban single-use plastics is still looming. The policy, drafted by Infrastructure Cook Islands, was approved by Cabinet earlier this year. It was due to be tabled before Christmas.
Ben-Nicholas says “We’re still waiting for government to pass the laws to ban plastic and all the rest of it. I guess that’s still in the pipeline but we’re doing our little bit.”
McKessar’s advice for families struggling to find the right eco-friendly gift this Christmas? Keep it simple.
“Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.”