Opinion

Help! We Have A Plastic Crisis!

Plastics are a looming catastrophe worth mentioning in the same breath as climate change.
07 Jun 2020 14:18
Help! We Have A Plastic Crisis!
European Union ambassador Sujiro Seam (third from left), University of the South Pacific vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia (fourth from left) and Fiji Sun columnist AnnMary Raduva (second from left) with USP staff, students and activists to mark World Environment Day and International Oceans Day with a cleanup at the university foreshore in Suva on June 5, 2020. Photo: USP

At the University of the South Pacific’s Marine Campus foreshore, we collectively picked up every item that does not belong on a beach – from plastic bottles, colourful bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic bags, old clothes and shoes, unloved toys, aluminium cans, plastic buckets and even a twin tub washing machine.

This almost-a-kilometre stretch beachfront offers a million dollar view for the university‘s staff, students and visitors, but the view is ruined by mounds of colourful, plastic trash brought in by the tide.

Every high tide brings a new wave of plastic trash to the beachfront – making it a perfect dump site for all plastic trash.

‘Walking the talk’

I was very fortunate to be part of the university’s Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCESD) coastal cleanup to commemorate World Environment Day and International Oceans Day – a noble civic gesture to raise awareness of the plastic trash problem and to support the call by the Centre’s climate change students’ efforts in “walking the talk”.

The students also felt that it is their responsibility to create an eco-friendly environment for the university’s regional staff, students and the visitors that occasionally find the beachfront a haven for de-stressing.

This event was organised and funded by the European Union funded project, Intra-ACP GCCA+ Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change and Resilience Building (PACRES) and PaCESD climate change students.

Plastic trash is quickly suffocating our environment and oceans and the beach cleanup is one of many activities the climate change students do in the academic semesters.

I have participated in several coastal cleanups and have organised my own beach cleanups after a mangrove planting activity.

More debris washes in

A good majority of rubbish collected are made of plastic, followed by other items like ropes, shoes, clothes, beverage cans, glass bottles and fishing nets.

But these are just the common ones found on beaches and waterways, new trash inevitably appears. During high tide at the Suva Point beachfront, one can literally watch plastics and debris in the barrel of each wave that crashes onto the beach.

Coastal and beach cleanups shows the global scope of plastic pollution and it is frightening.

Plastics are a looming catastrophe worth mentioning in the same breath as climate change.

These cleanups raise public awareness to the threat of trash more effectively than in less participatory programmes that only involve public speaking and classroom learning.

When I participated in my first coastal cleanup, it made me more mindful of the products I use and how I dispose my rubbish.

Documenting trash collected from these coastal and beach cleanups add to the growing body of knowledge about where and how plastic travels from its source to where it ends up.

Once a versatile, durable and inexpensive item is also a growing problem in our landfills and oceans. We seem to finally be waking up to the global issue of plastic pollution but we are nowhere near solving this global problem.

However, this realisation should not stop us from campaigning against single-use plastic whenever we can.

Forecasts for the future

By the year 2050, it has been forecasted that there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans and plastic particles will eventually become part of our seafood.

Such forecasts motivates me to continue to raise my voice on plastics and balloons that are killing our marine life, birds and land animals too.

Plastics also never fully biodegrade – it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces called micro plastics and they make their way up our food chain.

Ask Andrew Paris, a University of the South Pacific Masters of Science student who has dedicated his research on microplastics and has produced some very intriguing results from his research around Viti Levu fishing grounds.

Advocates to ban plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic food wrappers and the many sources of microscopic plastics are working equally hard on how to change the conversations on this issue and on home soil, I am very grateful for the support and mentoring from youth groups, conservation organisations and adults that have guided me through my campaigns.

Taking a stand on plastic

I am also appreciative of the Government’s stand on single-use plastics, however, to achieve a total ban on single-use plastics, everyone needs to work together and be practical about it.

I admire organisations that are going plastic-free. I also commend supermarkets that are wrapping their vegetables in banana leaves and I also admire market vendors and every other person and family that continue to champion a no-plastic lifestyle.

Let us use this World Environment Day and International Oceans Day to rethink how we use single-use plastics in our daily lives.

I think it is very empowering as citizens to know that our choices can make an impact.

Feedback: rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj


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