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  • By Jonathan Perez

Small islands taking big steps toward plastic ban

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Pacific island nations are taking a huge step toward environmental conservation with several island nations and territories either looking to stop or had already stopped the use of single-use plastic bags and its other related products.

Palau, famous for its pristine and crystal-clear waters, is among the Pacific nations that have taken the lead when in terms of addressing environmental issues. It has incorporated environmental protection into its immigration laws. Tourists visiting Palau are required to make a pledge to keep their surroundings clean during their stay and to avoid littering when they go around to see the attractions of the tiny island nation, a popular scuba diving destination and a haven to nature lovers. Palau is also the first country to ban sunscreen lotions that contain toxic chemicals, which were found to be harmful to coral reefs.

Last year, the Plastic Pollution Coalition held a multi-agency expedition and forum with Palauans to discuss plastic pollution in the ocean and other habitat, and to explore solutions related to reducing plastic use. Palau President Tommy Remengesau has signed an executive order that bans single-use plastic in all forms at all government agencies, departments and offices.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands has already banned the import, manufacture and use of plastic bags and Styrofoam products through a public law that went into effect in March 2017. A similar law in Vanuatu was implemented on July 1, 2018.

In Papua New Guinea, a total ban on plastic use will roll in on Jan. 31, 2020. Environment and Conversation and Climate Change Minister Geoffrey Kama has announced that all environment permits for importing biodegradable plastic shopping bags are no longer valid by Jan. 31. Shops and other businesses in PNG have only a few weeks left to use all their plastic stocks before the enforcement of the total plastic ban.

In the CNMI, Sen. Vinnie Sablan has introduced Senate Bill 21-37 in the Commonwealth Legislature that aims to impose a ban on importation, production, distribution and use of plastic bags. Once enacted, the law would authorize the CNMI Division of Customs to inspect shipment and confiscate plastic bags while also assessing penalties starting from $250 for first time violators. A second and third violation would have $500 and $1,000 fines while succeeding violations after that would have a fine of $1,000 but not more than $1,500.

An estimated one trillion plastic bags, sacks, and wraps are used worldwide with more than 380 billion used by Americans annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. consumes 100 billion single-used plastic bags every year, costing retailers $4 billion a year.

Plastic bags and other related products have become a serious threat to the environment. They find their way into the oceans, threatening marine life and their natural habitat. Scientists have also found that plastic bags end up in the stomachs of several sea creatures including sea turtles, whales, and other marine animals. Plastic bags are non-biodegradable. They do not decompose; instead they break down into smaller toxic pieces. The manufacture of plastic products also contributes harmful greenhouse gases into the air. Addressing the issue in the problems caused by plastic products—either the production or the use of it—is one of the ways of informing the public on climate change.


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