Stevenson: Notes from small islands on rising tide of rubbish
emailed response to an earlier column posed the question: Do you
live in a small island?
I did, I was urged to "tell us what you think". I thought: "spam".
something stayed my hand as it moved quickly to the delete key
and I read the message through to the end. It was, in fact, an
interesting discussion on a problem peculiar to the people of
some island states scattered around the planet.
miles of water and land masses between them, island folk from
the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific were using the internet
to exchange ideas, and air problems and solutions.
don't live on a small island, I thought, so while the discussion
was mildly intriguing it was not relevant to me. But then I realised
- from my little patch of the North Island - that I did, and it
became an interested observer of the Small Islands Voice (SIV)
global forum set up by the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2002 to reduce the effects
of islanders' isolation.
discussion topics popped into my in-box, it became clear our scattering
of islands probably has more issues in common with tiny island
nations than it does with countries on large continents.
Zealand may not be at risk of sinking beneath the waves like the
Maldives, or be caught up in an ownership dispute between larger
nations, such as the San Andres Archipelago, but as often as we
might think big, we are not.
like a list of recent New Zealand news headlines, SIV discussion
topics have included the cost of development, access to beaches,
tourism strategies, foreign investment, rising crime and violence,
and garbage disposal.
last topic, discussed in June, resonated because, not only do
we have our own rubbish disposal problems, at this time of the
year many of us jet off for a little sun on some small tropical
island where we add - usually unthinkingly - to its trash woes.
Mitchell of San Andres - 100,000 people in 27sq km - kicked off
are now swimming in excessive garbage, with the threat of health
epidemics that will be harmful to our children, youth and old
people, and without any appropriate management in sight."
responded: "The same thing is happening to us in Palau, a very
small Pacific island with a population of 15,000.
foreigners don't care where the trash goes because they don't
have to stay. People work everyday picking up trash. I think it
is one of the main reasons why it is everywhere - people know
somebody is going to pick it up."
a small dive resort on a Fijian island, Viola Koch said rubbish
was buried or, in the case of one large resort, dumped in the
Samoa, Iteli Tiatia bemoaned that while plastic bags lay "everywhere"
a local factory continued to make them and other businesses imported
emailer suggested island nations collectively demand that manufacturers
of products sold in the islands use less packaging, or only biodegradable
packing. Another said countries should import food only in bulk
containers so it can then be packed domestically using recyclable
Finniss of Rodrigues, Mauritius, reported that recycling and composting
was reducing rubbish. And importing companies were required by
law to crush or recycle plastic bottles and cans.
New Zealand, we can only hope that the new voluntary Packaging
Accord signed this month by the Government and the packaging industry
will help stem our rising tide of trash.
latest accord is designed to reduce waste, not just recycle it,
and "move toward product stewardship".
correspondent Koin Etuati of Fiji would agree. He recently quoted
renowned waste management researcher Dr Paul Connett of St Lawrence
University, New York. "Society's task is not to perfect the destruction
of our waste, but to find ways to avoid making it.
the longer term, after the citizen has played his or her part
by supporting source separation, reuse, recycling, composting
and toxic removal, industries have to pay more attention to the
way objects and materials are made and used. How an object is
going to be used or recycled has to be built into the initial
design," he said.
doesn't matter - the Small Islands Voice forum shows that. Being
bigger simply means it takes longer for the problem to become
New Zealand Herald 20 July 2004