Vanuatu Plastic Ban

Vanuatu was reported to become the first country in the world to legally ban plastic straws. Since 1 July 2018, it is officially an offence in Vanuatu to sell single use plastic shopping bags, plastic drinking straws and polystyrene boxes. Manufacturing or giving away of these products are also illegal.

The Government’s decision to ban these items was supported by data from litter clean-ups conducted by the Vanuatu Environmental Science Society (VESS) and the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation. Since 2015, a considerable amount of plastic bags and polystyrene take away containers have been collected around Efate Island. The high record of plastics greatly impacts the marine life and destroys the environment.

Malapoa College Students at the Seafront Litter Clean Up and Survey in Port Vila (VESS, June 2017)

Raising Awareness

The Prime Minister announced on Independence Day 2017 that the Government intended to ban single use plastics. In January 2018, the regulation was announced with the ban coming into effect in July 2018.

The information about the ban immediately spread through news reports in the local media. Further, awareness was raised through social media and radio and television interviews conducted in Port Vila. The Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation distributed posters, information booklets, pamphlets and stickers about the ban to communities in urban areas and across the outer islands of Vanuatu. Primary and Secondary Schools in Vanuatu also participated in a singing competition on plastic ban just before the ban became effective.

VESS in collaboration with ‘No Plastik Bag, Plis’ organised a plastic exhibition held in Port Vila. The exhibition aimed to raise awareness on the impacts of plastics on the environment, particularly the impact on the marine life. Information about the ban was put up at the exhibition. This made people became aware of the plastic ban. Also, visitors who came to the exhibition made their pledge to stop using plastic bags.

With assistance provided by non-governmental organisations, environmental leaders on the outer islands of Vanuatu who had many experiences in promoting awareness on resource management issues as well as ensuring sustainability of natural resources spoke to their community leaders, community members and to shop keepers about the ban. Around Vanuatu, information about the ban also spread from one individual to another.

Plastic Ban Poster at an Outer Island in Vanuatu (VESS, 2018)
No Plastic Pledge in Port Vila (VESS, June 2018)

Enhanced Livelihoods

The decision about the ban already has a positive impact on people’s livelihood. It provides a greater opportunity for locals to revive traditionally woven baskets and to utilize local materials to contain food and beverages. The uniqueness of the local baskets not only signifies identity, culture and pride but most importantly shows people around the world that locals care for their land and marine environment.

Traditional Baskets presented by ‘Mamas’ (Haos Blong Handikraft, 2019)
Traditional Baskets presented by ‘Mamas’ (Haos Blong Handikraft, 2019)

The Port Vila handicraft market is the best place where anyone can find amazing and creative local handicrafts. Weavers at the handicraft market, known around the country as “Mamas”, use Pandanus fronds and leaves of a local palm-like tree to create different styles of traditional island baskets. The selling of these local items not only provides income to Vanuatu, but promotes Vanuatu as a clean, safe and happy destination to tourists as well as locals.

VESS and other non-governmental organisations supported the public by providing calico eco-bags. These bags are imported but are designed and printed in Vanuatu.

Calico Eco Bags by the Vanuatu Environmental Science Society (VESS, 2018)

It was a bit hard to change the mentality of the people to use traditional baskets instead of plastic bags. However, people have adjusted to the new law. They are now using all sorts of local baskets to transport their goods or when they do their shopping. In the main urban areas, many locals carry local bags with them.

Implementation Challenges

According to the pollution section in the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation, 80 to 90 percent of companies or businesses complied with the new regulation. Yet about 10 to 20 percent are still using plastics in the country illegally. Some local people and some small local business owners do complain for not using plastics anymore, but as months have gone by they managed to use alternatives. VESS has analysed litter data collected in September 2018. They identified that there was a drop in the number of these banned plastic items.

Continuing Non-Plastic Trend

Vanuatu is known for its beautiful beaches, spectacular reefs and clear waters. The plastic ban means visitors can appreciate the attractiveness of the islands without seeing lots of plastic pollution. During some environmental workshops conducted around the islands of Vanuatu, people say the ban has brought a positive change in their communities. It is cleaner than in the past and it gives the chance for the marine life to survive.

The Government is now looking at the second proposed ban on a set of single-use plastic items. This includes all plastic packaging of fruits and vegetables for retail sale; forks, knives spoons, plates and cups designed for single use; stirrers/swizzle sticks; disposable nappies for babies; and artificial flowers.

About the Author
Martika Tahi is a Project Officer with the Vanuatu Environmental Science Society.
She is a Vanuatu national and holds a BA in Environmental Studies from USP.

Fiji Elections 2018

As the writ of election was announced today, the Fiji Elections Office (FEO) will close voter registration today at 6pm.

Until the very last minute, a great number of Fijians used the final opportunity to register, update their details, or get their lost voter ID cards replaced:

Fiji Elections 2018, FEO Station in Suva, 1 Oktober 2018, 5:30pm (photo taken by Kim Andreas Kessler)

 

Fiji: General Elections on 14 November 2018

Fiji’s President, Mr. Jioji Konrote, issued the writ for election this morning.

General election will be held on 14 November 2018.

Eight political parties are registered and eligible to contest. These are:

  1. Fiji First
  2. Fiji Labour Party
  3. Freedom Alliance Party
  4. Hope Party
  5. National Federation Party
  6. Peoples Democratic Party
  7. Social Democratic Liberal Party
  8. Unity Fiji Part

Party candidates must be nominated by 12pm on 15 October 2018.

Fiji National Flag (Source: Worldatlas 2016)

NZ Ranked Top for Aid Quality

The Center for Global Development released its Commitment to Development Index (CDI) 2018. The Index covers 27 of the world’s richest countries and measures their support to poorer nations.

Overall, Sweden ranks first, followed by Denmark. Finland and Germany share the third place. New Zealand is ranked thirteenth, followed by Australia. Switzerland is ranked in the lowest third of the list while South Korea is at the very bottom.

The aid component of the index ranks New Zealand fourth and Australia ninth. New Zealand is ranked on top of the 27 countries in terms of aid quality. As announced in August by the Lowy Institute, Australia is by far the most significant aid donor to the Pacific region in terms of quantity.

More information on the CDI

More information on the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Aid Map

 

Marshall Islands: Zero Emissions by 2050

The Marshall Islands announced its commitment to cut greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050. The atoll-nation is the very first Pacific island state making such an ambitions announcement.

The shipping industry poses the main challenge to achieve this commitment. Shipping is known as one of the world’s biggest polluting industries.

In the Marshall Islands, like in many Pacific island states, shipping is often referred to as the ‘lifeline’ of islands remotely located from larger markets.

Cargo Ship in the Cook Islands, 2016

Pacific Islands Forum on Nauru

The Pacific Islands Forum currently (3-6 September 2018) takes place on Nauru. Each year, the Forum brings together leaders from 18 member states (16 Pacific Island states, New Zealand and Australia) to discuss regional issues.

Australia’s new Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, will represent the PIF’s largest state, while newly appointed Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, travelled to Indonesia for his first overseas visit. The absence of Australia’s Prime Minister caused some concern about the importance the Australian Government gives to the Pacific Island region.

While climate change is on top of the PIF’s agenda, Fiji’s Prime Minister and COP23 President, Frank Bainimarama, is reported not to attend the meeting (Radio New Zealand, Sept. 3 2018; Fiji Sun, Sept. 4 2018, p. 10). Instead, Senior Minister Faiyaz Koya will represent Fiji in Nauru. Fiji’s Prime Minister stated in 2015 that he will not personally attend the annual PIF meetings “until the issue of the undue influence of Australia and New Zealand […] is addressed” (ABC, 6 May 2015). Voreqe Bainimarama is currently attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bangkok.

The Pacific Islands Forum convened on Nauru comes with reinvigorated calls for enhancing the conditions in Australia’s refugee detention centre on Nauru. While inhumane conditions and abuse of human rights have been reported since long, concerns about the mental health of children, including refusal to eat and suicide attempts, made headlines over the past weeks (see for example The Guardian or ABC Radio Australia).

Australia’s offshore detention centres are not on the PIF’s agenda, yet several humanitarian organisations are calling for action. So far, the Australian government and the Government of Nauru seem to make great efforts to silence discussions. The Nauru Government has banned ACB from attending the Forum. Marise Payne, being asked whether she will visit or meet any refugees while on Nauru, declined and stated that “the programme is fairly full in terms of the schedule that the forum itself provides” (ABC Radio Australia).

About Nauru

Nauru is one of the world’s smallest states. With a land area of 21 square kilometres, it takes less than 30 minutes to drive around the island. Nauru has a population of about 11,000 people. During the past century, Nauru exported phosphate (from bird droppings) predominantly to Australia, where it was used as fertiliser. This business made Nauru one of the world’s richest nations in terms of GDP per capita. However, phosphate mining was unsustainable, for Nauru’s natural environment as well as its finance. Today, the Australian detention centre is one of the state’s main source of income.

Nauru, photograph by Remi Chauvin for The Guardian

Fiji’s Plastic Ban

In Fiji, the plastic levy increased from 10 cents to 20 cents per bag on 1 July 2018. Studies or figures which track changes in consumer behaviour since July 2018 are not yet available. However, my personal observations at stores in Suva show that consumers are much more hesitant to buy plastic bags after the rise to 20 cents. They increasingly bring their own reusable shopping bags.

According to Fiji’s Minister of Economy, the island state aims to completely ban plastic bags by 2020. As reported by SPREP, plastic bag usage in Fiji has significantly reduced since 2010. However, there are still disastrous projections which estimate that there will be more plastic than fish in the Pacific Ocean by 2050. A recent SPREP study concludes that 97 percent of all fish species sampled in Fiji, Samoa, Rapa Nui and New Zealand had micro-plastics. This is 30 percent higher than the global average. For Fiji and other Pacific island states, where fish is one of the main protein source, this is of particular concern.

In the meantime, Fiji’s private sector becomes more engaged in the fight against plastic. This week, Raffe Hotels and Resorts announced that they will ban plastic straws across all properties in Fiji. By 10 October 2018, the group promised to replace all plastic straws with paper straws. Furthermore, straws will only be offered to guests upon request. The group operates the Fiji Gateway Hotel, the Plantation Island Resort and the Lomani Island Resort.

Some Cafes in Suva and other restaurants around the country already serve drinks with paper straws. However, straws often decompose after a short time. This is particularly a problem for fruit smoothies which seem to be popular among locals and tourists. So, why not stop using straws at all?  

Fiji, July 2018 (photo taken by Sargam Goundar)

A Plastic Free Pacific?

Movements toward a plastic free world seem to be on the rise globally.

In the Pacific, Vanuatu was reported to become the first state in the world to ban plastic straws. Since 1 July 2018, it is officially an offence in Vanuatu to sell single use plastic shopping bags, plastic drinking straws and polystyrene boxes. Import and local manufacture of these products are also illegal.

In Fiji, a plastic levy is in place since 1 August 2017. Businesses are required to charge a levy of 10 cents per plastic bag. The plastic levy is one source of the newly introduced Environment and Climate Adaptation Levy (known as ECAL). During the first year of implementation, over FJD 6 million have been collected by the plastic levy alone and over FJD 110 million by all ECAL sources. 60% of all ECAL funds have been utilised for infrastructure development while almost 30% has been committed to TC Winston rehabilitation projects.

In Vanuatu, one idea behind the plastic ban is that it would boost the production of traditional food baskets and stimulate the local economy. In Fiji, however, some shops have already started to sell manufactured non-plastic bags which are levy free. It will be interesting to see whether the business of traditional baskets will indeed flourish in Vanuatu or whether mass-produced non-plastic alternatives are able to satisfy customer demands at the cost of local production…

Land pollution in Fiji after a major festival on Viti Levu (Kessler, 2014)

 

 

Recount Ma’uke Electorate

After the 2018 general election in the Cook Islands, votes for the Ma’uke electorate will be recounted. A petition has been filed by the One Cook Islands party whose candidate lost to CIP’s Tai Tura by one vote.

In 2018, Ma’uke’s elector population stood at 186. The recount is expected for Wednesday (18 July).

Ma’uke Administration Building during Constitution Celebrations, July 2016 (photo taken by Kim Andreas Kessler)

Cook Islands Elections: Political Reform?

The Cook Islands National Parliament Election results are now official:

Democratic Party (Demos): 11 seats
Cook Islands Party (CIP): 10 seats
Independents: 2 seats
One Cook Islands (OCI): 1 seat

Henry Puna remains Prime Minister as CIP formed coalition with independent candidates and OCI.

There is an ongoing debate in the Cook Islands about the electorates and how they represent population size and regional interests. The Cook Islands are divided into 24 electorates:

  • Rarotonga: 10 electorates with an elector population of about 8,000
  • Southern Cooks: 10 electorates with an elector population of about 2,000
  • Northern Cooks: 4 electorates with an elector population of less than 500

With the current system, power is regionally distributed rather than relative to population size. Critiques from political activists and some politicians stress that MPs from outer islands wield too much power compared to the small populations they represent. The Prime Minister, for example, was elected with only 97 votes in a constituency (Manihiki) with a total elector population of 132. On the other hand, the current system more equally distributes power among the 15 Cook Islands and allows for outer island interests to be adequately represented at national level.

A possible reform bridging both arguments would be to introduce a bicameral system. However, the question is whether such a system, common to larger democratic states such as Switzerland, suits the Cook Islands as a comparatively small island state.

The call for such political reform in the Cook Islands is not new. It seems rather unlikely that change is introduced, since a change in electorates is likely to reduce power of the majority of MPs currently in office.