Ani O’Neill: Our little island must quit smoking

Saturday May 02, 2020 Written by Published in Environment
A fire pit with plastic rubbish. 20050117 A fire pit with plastic rubbish. 20050117

OPINION: Personally, I am so over burning. This week has been especially bad in our village, as we prepared for tutaka by cleaning our homes and surroundings to help stop the dengue outbreak in Rarotonga. 

The unfortunate side effect of the tutaka is an increase in fires at home where burn piles are dealt to. The burning of plastic is especially toxic.

We know the important message that 'smoking is bad for you' but when you really think about it, our whole island 'smokes' nearly every day and it seems like it is getting worse. 

Somewhere there is always a fire burning on this island. The smoke from our burning affects all of our people's lungs and reduces our quality of health, on a daily basis. 

Can we change our burning habits? Let’s quit smoking! 

We have been raised with the idea to clean our properties with a fire, but there are other ways to deal with the leaves and green waste from our gardens. Composting and mulching are great options for us to feed our gardens and make our soil rich.

There is a real opportunity now to support local composting and mulching for our villages on a medium scale. 

Our local puna have done such a great job in working to keep our people healthy with the Covid-19 Emergency Centres. Perhaps our puna can continue that role in maintaining healthy communities but also with a focus on composting and returning nutrients to the soil instead of burning? 

With proper support, our puna could run local workshops on how to compost and mulch.  Funding could be sought for industrial mulchers for the villages to use to chip tree branches for mulch. Perhaps an area of land could be identified within each village for composting facilities similar to the Titikaveka Growers’ operation. 

It is not just households responsible for burning their plastic and other inorganic waste. 

There are a number of small to medium supermarkets, tourism accommodations, and restaurants that also have their burn piles in locations that may in general be out of sight, but definitely within range for spreading toxic fumes around where people live. 

This is no doubt a cheaper option for them than sending this inorganic waste to the landfill, but is much worse for our health.

This issue crosses several government departments including the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, National Environment Service and Infractructure Cook Islands.

It will take all of us, government, non-governmental organisations, private sector businesses and local villages working together to find a solution for this.

Perhaps people today don’t know how to burn a fire 'properly'. My mama was very considerate of her neighbours and taught me how to burn a fire so that it didn't make much smoke. 

So if you have no other option but to make a fire, please think about how to make a good fire:

- no plastic or rubber

- dry enough to burn – not too green

- is not too big

- will burn fast and efficiently

- check the wind is right

- make sure the fire is completely out when you are finished

Ironically, one of the reasons we decided to live in Rarotonga, thanks to my mum's family, is so that we could live in a place with the best air – from the sea and the garden.

Unless we do something about this burning issue, it feels like we are all slowly going to be poisoned, every day we live here.

> Te Ipukarea Society


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