Ban on importation of polystyrene takeaway containers

9 November 2017

As part of progressing steps to preventing waste generation, Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI) as focal point for the Cook Islands Solid Waste Management Committee has drafted a policy proposing to ban the importation of polystyrene takeaway containers.

Other non-government members of the committee have done much awareness work on encouraging the public to choose eco-friendly containers over the years.  Price comparisons show that the cost difference is in the order of a few cents per container.

The Committee are moving to ban these products due to the fact that they are non-biodegradable and are a threat to human health and other living things. “It is now time to start implementing a better approach to waste management, some waste has its place here as compost or reusable items, but those such as polystyrene takeaway containers represent a one-time use product which does not breakdown in landfills, litters our island and pollutes the ocean. Alternatives to polystyrene are available that biodegradable and contribute positively to our national waste management goals” says Joseph Brider of the National Environment Service.

It is well often reported that when polystyrene comes into contact with hot or acidic food and beverages that the ingredients in the container, which are petroleum based leach into the food or drink. In addition to this, burning polystyrene pollutes the air with toxic fumes” says Valentino Wichman of the Ministry of Health. “This of course poses a risk to the health of people” adds Wichman.

Polystyrene containers are often sighted littered along roads, streams and beaches and will almost always end up being blown into the ocean where they are very detrimental to sea life.  “The risk posed to marine life and birds is huge” says Kelvin Passfield of Te Ipukarea Society.  “Polystyrene breaks into smaller pieces and can be consumed by marine creatures and birds.  The ingredients of course are then absorbed into their bodies and we then consume the fish!  Birds cannot digest the plastic rubbish and end up starving to death with bellies full of plastic.  Upon decomposition the plastic is released back into the environment to start the cycle again” adds Passfield.

“According to scientific reports in the media we now hear that toxins from plastic debris in the ocean is upsetting the chemical formula of ocean water and there are apparently patches of floating plastic waste so dense that people can actually walk on it” says Jaime Short of ICI. “Since there are biodegradable and safe alternatives, polystyrene takeaway containers are an easy commodity to do away with and with all the dangers they pose, it is a sensible move.  In addition to preventing the risk to the ocean and its life, we also benefit by less non-biodegradable waste at our already full landfill” she adds.

ICI is currently having legislation drafted including a Solid Waste Act that will fill existing gaps in legislation pertaining to waste.  “We intend to place the polystyrene ban under this Act if appropriate however our legal drafters will advise the best way forward given that other Acts allow prohibitions” says Short. 

Sectors of the community that will be affected are the importers and a portion of market vendors and to a lesser extent, fundraising groups.  “Many market vendors and fundraiser groups have already switched to the eco-friendly containers which is a great thing to see” says Short.  The country’s largest importer CITC have stopped importing the polystyrene containers altogether and were early supporters of the Te Ipukarea Society anti polystyrene campaign. “All policies need to go through consultation and we will of course be providing an opportunity for the public and key sectors to make comment and have a discussion about the proposed ban” she adds.  The draft policy is available for download at http://ici.gov.ck/waste and has been circulated to the key sector members via email and are available at the Punanga Nui office.  All those who wish to make comments can send these in to infrastructure@cookislands.gov.ck or call 20321 or visit the Director of WATSAN before the end of November.  The policy has already been reviewed by the Solid Waste Management Committee members.