Presenting at the Youth Empowerment for Education for Sustainable Development, Short laid out the issues that they face in dealing with waste management, as well as a possible solution.
“Here, we have a small population, which means we have a low economic base to support services, and often waste management is out of sight, out of mind,” Short said.
“It gets neglected until it is a bit too late, and the damage is done, and if not properly managed, waste can be polluting.”
The problems are worse on the outer islands, as the costs for shipping is prohibitive, and the land to dispose of garbage is scarce.
One of Short’s solutions was the Advanced Disposal Fee (ADF), which would help out with shipping costs, encourage recycling while also putting a bit of money in consumer’s pockets.
“We get a product, say a 600ml bottle of Coke, and when it enters the country, we place a fee on top of it, that will pay for its disposal, as well as a refund,” Short explained.
“Average cost of the bottle is under $4.00. 10c would be the refunded to you when you take it to a recycling depot or machine, 1c is a recycling handling fee for the recycling company and 4c is retained for waste management systems and infrastructure.”
When the bottle arrives in the country, customs would charge the importer 15c, which is then added to the cost of the bottle when purchased.
Once the bottle is finished, if brought back to a recycling depot or a reserve vending machine, 10c will be rewarded.
“Then, the recycler from that claims from that recycling fund 11c, which is the 10c refund and the 1c handling fee. What is retained for each 600m bottle is 4c per bottle.”
That may not sound like much, she said, but just from one importers figures (of 600ml, 1.5L bottles and 335ml cans), the ADF would provide almost $86,000.
Money like that would be incredibly useful, and Short believed that it would go a long way to ridding the islands of the stockpiles of waste that have built up.
“The ADF gives us three advantages; It gives us a fund to carry out positive services to the public and country, provides an incentive to not litter, as well as to separate recyclables.”
She also said that it could be a useful tool for fundraising, or for the unemployed.
The incentive to properly dispose of plastic would also hopefully encourage people to stop burning plastic, as it is an incredibly dangerous method that is carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
Something like the ADF was a necessity for the Cook Islands, as large-scale projects that take place overseas were unrealistic if they were held here.
“We need to be practically sustainable, because often times we don’t plan well or operate within our means. So the key is to control what’s coming in.”
One of the keys to achieving that is to operate by the four R’s – refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle.
If this was abided by, 65 per cent of the waste in the landfill could have been diverted for composting or recycling.
Instead, the landfill is essentially full, meaning that rubbish has to be stacked.
Next, Short moved onto land degradation and explained how human activity had unsurprisingly produced ill effects on the natural environment.
“In the natural world, we have trees and shrubs protecting the ground, trees provide a buffer between the ground and anything falling from above,” Short explained.
“Big rain drops that are falling turn into smaller rain drops, and the sunlight is also diffused.”
Once the natural protection is removed, the ground gets pounded by the rain and the sun, which spreads out the particles, breaking up the ground that will then wash downward, which produces land overflows and flooding.
She suggested that instead of cutting down every tree, the area of tree and ground cover removal should be limited, unless it was absolutely necessary.
Sediment tracks, covering soil with textile covers and replanting natural, native plants were all other solutions that Short offered as a way to mitigate the damage done to the environment.
“Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid cutting or removing native plants. But where it’s not, we can try and control the outcomes.”