Vanuatu: greener grass and a bluer sea

MONIQUE PUEBLOS

With the challenge of what appears to be an ever-growing plastic ocean, a Pacific Island nation is on-board with doing their part in conserving the earth by reducing their plastic.

#1 Woven bags hanging from a tree in Tanna

 Woven bags in Tanna. Photo: Cathy Ross.

Committed to protecting its marine life and surrounding environment, Vanuatu has entered its fourth month of the nation’s plastic bag ban.

Vanuatu’s plastic bag ban, which includes plastic straws and polystyrene takeaway boxes, took to effect on 1 July this year and is recognised as the first country in the world to ban plastic straws.

Former Secretary General of Torba Ketty Newpatt said the people of Port Vila can see the difference in how clean their surrounds are since the plastic bag ban.

“The problem for us now is just to remember to take bags when we go shopping, but that’s still really good because those things (plastic bags) fly around way too much… I still think more can be done.

“But it’s obvious to everyone, they can see the difference since they passed the ban.

Geography student at the University of the South Pacific Tafea Campus, Jameson Iouiou said that plastic is a rising issue in Vanuatu.

#2 Woven bags at Port Vila Markets

Woven bags in Port Vila. Photo: Cathy Ross.

The 20-year-old Tannese local said the government promoted the use of traditional woven bags made from pandanus or coconut leaves, which can be found all over the country.

“You can see people selling these bags at the market hanging from the tree,” he said.

“In Blackman Town, if you ask for a plastic bag they say ‘no, there are no plastic bags’ so people are using the traditional bags.

“In Tanna, we are taking steps to avoid using plastic to further problems,” he said.

Mr Iouiou said because the plastic ban had only started this year, he could not see any immediate effects in Tanna right now, but knew that it would make a difference later on.

“I think most of the people of Tanna know about the effects of using plastic,” he said.

“I think the people are cooperating with it, the people are really accepting all this put out by the Municipal Council.

“The only town in Tanna is Blackman Town so when the people want to go shopping, they go there and it looks like they understand the problem.”

“It’s funny to see with bread, people just take it and it’s exposed to the dust and so it’s better with plastic, but it’s okay because plastic is not good for the environment,” he said.

Mr Iouiou said the people of Tanna used to burn or bury the plastic bags underground as they did not know the plastic would not break down and that the lack of education for some of the Tannese people meant they tried to innovate new ways to get rid of the plastic.

He also said that the people of Tanna are aware of the greater issue linked to plastic – climate change, and is a topic regularly discussed in the home.

“Usually, I speak to my parents and my brothers and sisters about planting trees, displacement, where to put rubbish,” he said.

“What I’ve learned so far (regarding climate change) is not what I’m studying right now but we (students and teachers) usually talk about the issue.” 

“It’s the main issue for Vanuatu and maybe for the world.”

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