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Samoa looks to ban all single-use plastic

June 23, 2018 6:11 pm

Samoa will look to ban all single-use plastic from January, its government said, in the latest move to protect the country’s oceans.

A government statement said the ban will initially target single-use plastic bags and straws, with an eventual goal of widening the ban to include plastic and styrofoam containers and cups.

“This issue is too large to for us to sit by without taking any action,” said Ulu Bismarck Crawley, the chief executive of the environment ministry, referring to the global problem of plastic waste in the ocean.

Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, with that volume expected to increase significantly in coming years.

Millions of whales, birds, seals, turtles and fish are killed when they mistake plastic for food, or when they become ensnared in packaging.

Recent studies found a plastic bag at the deepest point of the ocean, the North Pacific’s Marianas Trench, and toxins from plastics have been found to be leaching into the food chain worldwide.

And that’s before considering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre of plastic debris about three times the size of France that’s congregated in the northeast Pacific, and has recently been found to be growing rapidly.

“By making these changes as a nation, our positive impact will be felt not only by us in Samoa, but also by our global community,” said Ulu.

While Samoa contributes little to the global plastic problem, Ulu said it would be wrong for the country to not join the global fight against plastic.

The country’s use of plastic increased by more than 20 percent between 2011 and last year, according to research by the environment ministry, with the country disposing more than 33,000 tonnes of rubbish – about 20 percent of which is plastic.

Like most Pacific countries, recycling programmes are expensive and prohibitive, with countries having to fork out large sums to ship small quantities over a vast distance.
Most of the rubbish generated ends up in landfill or, in the case of even smaller countries like Kiritbati, in the ocean.

James Atherton, who is the president of the Samoa Conservation Society and was effusive in his praise for the government’s plan, said a ban on single-use plastic was one of the most direct ways to begin to address the problem.

“Plastics are a huge problem for us,” said Mr Atherton. “A lot of it ends up in the lagoon and, of course, it has impacts on our marine life. Our waterways, especially in the built-up areas, are full of trash and, in particular, plastic.”

The government said about 70 percent of all the litter in the country’s waterways and ocean was plastic, which presented a huge threat to the country’s marine life.

In this region, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and some Australian states have already banned single-use plastics, while New Zealand says it is considering it.

Samoa tried a similar ban about a decade ago, but Mr Atherton said that failed because little preparation was done to consider alternatives. Now, he said, there is global momentum for Samoa to ride.