Jun 01, 2020 Last Updated 1:05 AM, Jun 1, 2020

Visit the Plastic Adrift website and you can place a little rubber duck on a spot of your choice and see how plastic pollution spreads. Place your duck just off the east coast of Australia, and the simulation shows marine pollution spreading like a rash over Pacific island seas and territories.

Plastic Adrift is a project of Imperial College (London), Utrecht University (Netherlands) and the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. It shows in an engaging way how ocean currents drive plastic and other waste across the globe, some 8 - 10 million tonnes per year according to the United Nations.

Of course you don’t need a fancy computer simulation to show you how much of a problem plastic ocean waste is. Pacific seafarers, coastal dwellers, fishers and divers can see it clearly for themselves.

Despite heightened awareness of the problems of managing plastic waste, global plastic production continues to grow. The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) estimates production will grow 33-36 per cent over the next five years.

After climate change, plastic waste management is arguably one of the region’s most visible and topical environmental issues.  Unregulated and disposed of carelessly, plastic litters beaches and clogs drains and rivers, creating mosquito-friendly  (and therefore dengue and malaria-friendly) environments. In some dumps it contributes to the leaching of damaging elements into the ocean, lagoons and other waterways. A recent New Zealand report, Rethinking Plastics, found that 33 of 34 commercial fish species had evidence of ingested plastic across four South Pacific locations. Fish eat plastic and we eat fish.

In the Pacific, plastic bag bans are most often linked to the values of environmental (particularly ocean) stewardship, resource management and climate change concerns. For example, Federated States of Micronesia President, David Panuelo told his country, "In order for the [FSM]'s Climate Change pleas to be taken seriously by the global community…We must lead by example. This new ban on disposable plastic, which allows the importation of reusable and recycled plastic, shows that it is possible to be environmentally conscious while still retaining sensitivity to the conveniences appreciated by citizens and the business community."

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MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Every week Mission Pacific’s bottle buy-back centre in Suva is visited by a wide variety of Fiji residents and businesses with very different motivations for bringing in their PET bottles.

Some of them are driven by love for the environment, says Mission Pacific Environment and Sustainability Officer, Mathew Lomaloma. Others are driven by a sense of industriousness. Some bottles come from villages where bottle collection has been tied to village health or environment initiatives.  Other individuals and businesses are driven by profit. Occasionally someone will try to play the system as well, “you’ll find some people will try and throw a brick in there.”

 “You also have the retirees who try and put a little bit of money in their pockets,” says Lomaloma. “There’s a gentleman who says he wants to fund his own funeral. It’s a bit morbid but they have their reasons, it’s different motivating factors for different people.”

Mission Pacific has been operating since 1999, although only under the current name for a couple of years. Established by Coca-Cola Amatil (its other partners are Fiji Water and Sprint,) the program now recycles more than 200 tonnes of PET bottles per annum; or about 20 per cent of bottles sent into the market annually.

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Throwing coal on the fire

  • Jun 02, 2020
  • Published in January

By New Year’s Day, Australia was on fire. There were more than 200 fires burning across the country, from Western Australia to the east coast states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Since the start of the fire season, more than ten million hectares of land have been burnt out – an area nearly six times the size of Fiji or New Caledonia.

And from coffee sales to alumni dinners, Pacific islanders have rallied to the assistance of their Australian ‘vuvale’ affected by the bushfires. PNG and Fiji are also sending soldiers to work with the Australian Defence Force on the ground.

The fundraising efforts, from small community-driven initiatives to larger government-coordinated programs, prompted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to acknowledge the “the loving response from our Pacific family”.

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is Islands Businesses’ 2019 Pacific Person of the Year. Just over two years since she took office, events in New Zealand and in her own personal life have catapulted her on to the global stage. One among a new wave of young leaders who were swept to power (Canada’s Trudeau, France’s Macron and Ireland’s Varadkar), Ardern’s positive image has been the most enduring. Islands Business profiles Ardern the Prime Minister and the person – and her work in New Zealand and the Pacific, and brings you a separate, exclusive interview.

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Bougainville votes

Do you agree for Bougainville to have: A)Greater autonomy? B)Independence? This is the question Bougainvilleans are answering this month in a long-awaited referendum, 20 years after peace was brokered. The referendum is the third prong of the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement. The other pillars – creation of the Bougainville Autonomous Government (which happened in 2005) and a weapons disposal program—have been successfully managed, and the current poll is expected to return a clear majority vote for independence. In the preparation for polling, bows and arrows have been broken, betelnut chewed, testimonies and stories shared, shell money exchanged, and hands shaken in reconciliation ceremonies across Bougainville

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