Ban threatening an end to our plastic bags love affair

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Everyday habits are hard to break, especially when they become second nature. That’s because we don’t think about them anymore, we just do it. They become part of the fabric that makes us who we are so to speak. 

Our attitude, more or less love affair with the use of everything plastic, has become a bit like that. 

Take plastic bags for instance. I stopped at a side stall yesterday to buy a tuna sandwich, which I intended to eat right away. Without a second thought whatsoever, the stall owner pulled out a huge plastic bag for this very small sandwich. I respect her for it. In her mind, it would be rude for me to walk to my car holding a sandwich on its own, one that would be gone in a few seconds. I said thank you and gave her the plastic bag back.

Just a few meters down the road, the next stop was a local store for a bottle of water and a couple of small things. Again, it was the same reaction. This time, the shopkeeper put the bottle of water in one plastic bag and the other small items in another. Two plastic bags for items that I could just easily carry with me and would be consumed right away. Keep in mind that this all happened in the morning. My day had barely started when I’d already been the recipient of three plastic bags. This happens every day in Samoa. 

Everywhere we stop to buy something, we are given plastic bags upon plastic bags. On a daily basis, it’s probably safe to say that each person goes through an average of 8 to 10 plastic bags with every transaction we make. Some people go through more. 

Now imagine 100,000 people averaging the use of 8 plastic bags a day. That’s 800,000 plastic bags a day, 56 million a week, 1.68billion a month and 20.1 trillion plastic bags a year. This a pretty conservative estimate given our population of 195,000. And we are only talking about plastic bags. 

We haven’t even started looking at straws, plastic cups, styrofoam plates which have become part of everyday life on these shores and many other forms of plastics.

All these forms of plastics need somewhere to go when we no longer need them. Recycling is one option but it is one the authorities are still struggling through and probably safe to say remains at infancy stage in Samoa.  

The question is, where do these plastic materials end up? How do we get rid of them? And who suffers as a result? 

The answer is not hard to find. 

These plastics end up on the streets, on our shores, in the seas and making our otherwise beautiful environment look ugly. In some cases, they end up buried in the soil. The toxic chemicals from them ruin the environment and it washes back out to the sea destroying our precious marine life.  

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, at least eight million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean on an annual basis, with at least 51 trillion micro-plastic particles less than 5mm in diameter already in our ocean.

“The large-scale production and use of plastic dates back to 1950 when it was estimated that 2 million metric tons of plastic was produced, over the years the increase in plastic production has climbed dramatically.  In 2015 the planet produced 32 million metric tons of plastic.

“Studies now show that fish consumed by humans are ingesting the tiny ocean plastics, with 75% of the world’s tuna landings from Pacific waters and national fish consumption in the Pacific is three to four times the global average, there is cause for concern.” 

So why are we talking about plastics today? 

Last week, the Government announced a plan to ban single-use plastics, the first of many steps they plan to take to eventually phase out the use of plastics.

 “Samoa is proud to make this announcement as we enhance our Blue Pacific and join the global fight to restore our ocean and address damage caused by plastic,” said Ulu Bismarck Crawley, Chief Executive Officer, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.).

“This issue is too large for us to sit by without taking any action.  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.”

We congratulate the Government for the timely initiative. We cannot sit by and continue to head down the path of destruction with our current use of plastics.

Keep in mind that we live on small isolated islands with limited land mass and with climate change fast tracking sea level rise, these islands are not going to grow any further. If anything, they are becoming smaller with coastal erosion becoming extremely hard to ignore in some parts of this country today.

Getting back to the plastics ban, it’s fantastic that the Government is taking this path. But this message needs to be communicated to the masses, so that everyone gets onboard and take ownership of the message. Further, with the ban, we have to look at ways where it can be effectively enforced. There is no point in announcing a ban when it cannot be enforced.

That said, at least we are taking the first step, one of many that should follow. 

Have a great Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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