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Plastic waste is growing at an unhealthy rate

Saturday 8 October 2022 | Written by Te Ipukarea Society | Published in Environment, Opinion

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Plastic waste is growing at an unhealthy rate
Future young netball stars making the switch to reusable drink bottles at training. TIS/22100701

In efforts to smash out plastic waste, Te Ipukarea Society partnered up with Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC) to run a month-long “Plastic Battle competition”.

The online awareness raising competition challenged athletes and spectators to go plastic free during the Cook Islands games. The Plastic Battle message focuses on simple swap tactics such as taking a reusable water bottle to the games, as opposed to buying a single use plastic bottle of water.

Recycling plastic waste in the Cook Islands has not been possible for the last few years. Plastic waste is of such low value that China put a stop to receiving the world’s plastic waste. This means that all of the plastic waste that we have produced in Rarotonga since 2017 has been stored in bails at our landfill, left to degrade in quality with time, and break down ever so slowly into microplastic. Scientists are only beginning to understand the long-term impacts these microplastic contaminants have on our bodies; many have been linked to diseases, from diabetes to certain cancers. In the Cook Islands, reducing plastic waste is not only a matter of priority for the environment, but also for our health.

Once known for being the ‘miracle material’ that is durable and convenient, it is now becoming a mounting burden for the economy, our health, and the environment of the Cook Islands. As plastic waste cannot be recycled on Rarotonga, a zero waste culture needs to be taught and practiced to alleviate our plastic rubbish pressure. Moving towards zero waste could include day to day habits where people consider reusable options or opt for drinks in glass bottles and aluminum cans at the supermarket. These are products that are of value and can be recycled or repurposed.

The Ministry of Infrastructure Cook Islands has weekly roadside rubbish collections. Glass bottles are collected and crushed. While this crushed glass is not effectively utilised at present, it does hold potential for local use in concrete blocks, as road aggregate or as landfill cover. Cook Islands General Transport, a land and sea transport business, also collects waste such as aluminum cans and other metals for export to New Zealand. While glass and aluminum cans are products that can be recycled, single-use plastics continue to pile up within our islands.

During the Cook Islands Games, we encourage food vendors to use biodegradable products to reduce single-use plastic waste. Consider alternatives to plastic such as remembering to bring your reusable water bottle to your next athletic event. One reusable drinking bottle is not only better for the environment, but can save the average athlete a lot of money throughout their sporting career on single-use plastic bottles. There are UV treated water refill stations located around the island of Rarotonga, and you can get safe clean drinking water from these for free to keep you hydrated throughout the games. The quality of water at these stations is checked once a week by a To Tatou Vai water quality technician.

In the future, a ban on the importation of plastic may be the best solution to avoid continued damage to our landfill, ecosystems, and human health. 

But for the time being, play your part in reducing plastic waste during the Cook Islands Games by remembering your reusable bottle. Say “No” to plastic bottles and choose a drink in an aluminum can, rather than a plastic bottle. By doing your part, you are being a contributor to the ripple effect of changing mindsets and behaviours that form zero waste cultures.