Climate Change, Plastics and social responsibility, more lessons from my trip to Fiji

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Plastic debris litters a shoreline in the capitol city of Suva, Fiji.

As the world gathers to take account of the ways humanity has made an impact on the global climate, and the ways we can work together to reduce our impacts on the world I want to look back into more of the lessons and experiences I had while in Fiji.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the activities I participated in was Climate Week events in Levuka, Fiji.  These events were in preparation for the ongoing climate talks happening in Bonn, Germany.  the purpose of this meeting, “under the Presidency of the Republic Fiji to negotiate the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.”

Impacts from climate change are affecting Fiji in many ways.  As the temperatures change along with the frequency of rainfall, concerns about water and food security are a real and active issue being faced by villagers in the 106 inhabited islands of Fiji.  Throughout my 2 year tour in the South Pacific I was overwhelmed by the dependence on imported food and the quantities of plastic that were consumed in remote areas of the world.  Much of this plastic is from water transported to the various islands on a one way trip of wasteful consumption and environmental pollution.   For most of the world, consuming plastic water is one of the greatest way individuals collectively pollute the world.  Additionally, due to the great awakening brought on by the Standing Rock Sioux, the indigenous people of the world are awakening their great and united voice, declaring that now is the time we must tend to the needs of Mother Earth.

While I was with the delegation members of the COP23 climate change week activities in September 2017, I engaged in a variety of conversations with village leaders and government staff.  Many were shocked at how the pieces of plastic water combine.  We talked about life on the islands, where for most needs, villagers are often required to grow their own foods, to work the land by hand and through a relationship with the Earth, eek out their livings.  We talked about plastic and it’s roles in global climate change.
I began by showing them how a bottle of water damages the environment through carbon pollution.  I explained how essentially, drinking plastic bottles of water burns oil into the atmosphere.  According to the Pacific Institute, the combined energy of creation and transportation of plastic is equivalent to 25% of the volume of the bottle in oil burned into the atmosphere.  Essentially for every 4 liters of Fiji bottled water one consumes, one liter of oil is burned into the atmosphere.  For a case of plastic water consumed in the United States that’s 2.25 quarts of oil per case of 12 oz (500 ml) bottles.

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There are no Target stores in Fiji, where both of these items were cleaned off a beach next to Votualalai Village off the Coral Coast where a key reef protection zone exists.

Through my time in working with those across the islands, many islanders will recognize their plastic water consumption as unnecessary.  I continuously asked people on the islands, what do they do with the plastics after they use them?    Please remember that left on the island, they will take up quantities plastics that left in the ocean will take up to 500 years to degrade into micro-plastics the size of grains of sand.

The reality is that across the islands of the South Pacific, including the island of Ovalau, Fiji – and the old capitol city of Levuka (a World Heritage Sitea World Heritage Site) plastic waste is often burned into the atmosphere.  Burning plastic has some impacts both global climate change as well as emissions that the ozone hole.  Unfortunately, every island nation that has people on it, consumes plastics in one form or another.  Many, like Fiji are phasing in plastic bag bans, generally with a fee or are introducing biodegradable plastic bags.

Sitting around a bowl of grog on a Wednesday evening in September, I was blessed to sit with people facing this issue first hand, where the problem is a daily part of life.  They have mixed water quality issues because some piping is starting to rust.  The infrastructure, laid in the ground 50-60 years ago; is beginning to deteriorate.  Many villagers are concerned that the replacement pipe is plastic and not metal.   Additionally, Ovalau was hit by a hurricane in February- 2016 and is still recovering from the storm. There are houses and buildings in every village that are not repaired.  By my observations I would estimate that less than one in twenty houses have rain water storage.

How do we solve this problem?  In most villages people don’t understand that carcinogens and heavy metals are released when they burn plastic trash. For two months I have been pondering this question.  If you’ve read my waste management paper on converting plastic to fuel, you know that there are many ways we can repurpose the waste from our consumption practices.  Currently I’m working on a feasibility study regarding a specific way to utilize post consumer plastics to create new molded or printed plastic containers.  This concept would allow local consumers to transform their waste into environmental preparedness and protect themselves from water scarcity as well and divert from the developing  practice of drinking water purchased from another place in the world.

As we look at what processes and ideas we can come up with to reduce our carbon footprint and the stresses upon mother earth, I for one am paying close attention to the conversations coming as Fiji leads COP23 in Bonn, Germany.

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One thought on “Climate Change, Plastics and social responsibility, more lessons from my trip to Fiji

  1. Pingback: FIJI Water Leaves Fiji Without Water | CutThePlastic

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