The numbers are staggering. Given our limited landmass, and the fear it’s only going to become smaller with sea level rise and coastal erosion, the issue is so alarming we cannot be complacent.
In fact, urgent action is needed and that involves everyone. Yes you and me. We all have a part to play.
We are referring to the alarming statistics about waste collected along the coastline and the negligent attitudes, which have contributed to the demise of our environment.
Take for example the figures uncovered last weekend during the International Coastal Cleanup. Samoa’s efforts concentrated at Taumeasina and thanks to the efforts of more than 40 people who took part, the findings certainly raised eyebrows.
From a distance of about 1.5km of beach covered, some 2177.5kgs of trash was collected. A break down of what was collected gives us an idea of the behaviours causing the problem. There were 838 plastic bags, 465 food wrappers, 144 plastic forks, knives and spoons, 33 disposable nappies, 1008 plastic and styrofoam food packaging, 39 shoes, 285 plastic drink bottles and 432 aluminum cans.
The question is where did this rubbish come from?
The answer is quite simple. They didn’t just drop from the sky. It came from you and me, the negligent human being who has developed quite a bad habit of littering anywhere and everywhere over the years. It includes the silly habit of throwing trash from moving vehicles, dumping anything and everything on the seawall after that night out and all the bad behaviour we have seen over the years. The worry is that these bad behaviours have been passed from generation to generation so they have become so common.
Let me say this again, the astounding amount of trash we’ve referred to in this piece was collected from just 1.5km covered.
Imagine the extent of the problem when we go through village by village? Try covering the entire length of Beach Road?
It would be quite sad.
For Anthony Talouli, the Pollution Adviser of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (S.P.R.E.P), who has been instrumental in the clean up for the past few years, the numbers reflect a poor attitude.
“Sadly the results from these cleanups are a reflection on how easy it is for many of us across the globe to dispose of our waste without a thought as to how it impacts on our environment,” he said.
“We really need to make a difference within our homes and then see the positive effects of this ripple across our planet.”
Indeed, among the growing environmental challenges staring us in the face today, there is no doubt dealing with waste is by far one of the most pressing. That’s because there is waste everywhere. We’re confronted by it everywhere we go, and yet some of us don’t seem to be bothered very much by it.
Well today is a good time to change our attitudes. The fear is that if we keep producing waste at the rate we’ve been going for the past years, the future is not going to be pretty.
We need to think about what we can all do to address the issue in our homes, villages and communities.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the individual’s actions. They matter. So what are the simple practical steps you and I can take?
Start by practicing the message of the “5Rs.” What are these Rs?
1) REFUSE: Say no! Say no to plastic straws when ordering a drink. Say no to the plastic bag at the shop counter
2) REDUCE: Buy items with less packaging. If you have an option to buy a niu or a Poweraid, buy the niu (you are supporting local economy and reducing the amount of waste you produce)! But remember to say no to the straw!
3) REUSE: Find new uses for the packaging and items that you do have. e.g. turn an empty jam jar into a storage system for your pantry.
4) RECYCLE: Samoa does have a recycling programme. We should all be recycling! (approx. 20% of items found at the beach cleanup were recyclable in Samoa (aluminium cans, scrap metal, and some plastics)
5) RETURN: Many of the glass beverage bottles in Samoa can be returned so that you and me can make some money.
It is also worthy to note that Savai’i and Upolu have the best waste collection coverage in the Pacific.
Based on this, it means we have no excuse for littering unnecessarily. All you need to do is compile your rubbish, let the collectors come around and do their job. It is that simple.
Lastly, it’s important to note all these suggestions have been around for years and yet it seems that they have made very little difference.
Which brings us to the point that sometimes, tough measures are needed for matters of life and death. This is where the government has to come in. If they are serious about addressing this issue once and for all, isn’t it time to consider banning plastics – especially Styrofoam - altogether? What do you think?
Have a wonderful Thursday Samoa, God bless!