Fiji – Climate Change, COP23 and Sustainable Practices – A Firsthand Experience ( Part 1 of a Series)

COP 23 trash cleanup

Teaching children to clean rubbish provides lifelong experience to prevent the creation of litter.

I love Fiji!!!!   As a people the life and community mindset of people is a step away from the major concerns of the world.  “Bula”, the common greeting which is often responded with “Bula Bula” or “Bula Vinaca”;  is hard to express without a smile on your face.  In fact, in 2014 Fiji was determined to be the Happiest Place on Earth. Climate change is a daily and real life issue for many who live among Fiji’s 300 islands.  Here, in 2016 Hurricane Winston had a real life impact for many.  Homes, food sources and shorelines experienced catastrophic changes, changes that impact the daily life of villagers. In continued response to Winston as well as addressing the concerns for immediate and long term impacts of climate change and in support of their hosting COP23 in Bonn, Germany; Fiji engaged in a week long direct community engagement program the week of September 22-29, 2017.

In the town of , Levuka, Eastern Division, Fiji; I was blessed to find myself in the midst of an amazing group of people who were hosting a series of meetings in different villages on this island.  This was the Western Division meeting and there were several different meetings throughout the community.  Leveuka, a World Heritage Site, was one of 6 community sites throughout the country.

Members of this team included staff from Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Ministry of Fisheries,d Ministry of Taukei Affairs, Offices of the Provincial Administrator, Corrections and more.   This community had been working together for 4 or 5 days when I arrived on Tuesday night.  They opened the event with a parade on Friday, as can been seen in the local Fiji Sun article.  My two day adventure with this team consisted of meeting in the morning at the community meeting room, located just across the street from the village police compound.  We would load up and travel to a neighboring village. At the village, members of the community would meet with members of the team.  This happened in several segments.

mangrove planting cop 23

Children in Draiba, Fiji participate in replanting important mangroves which were destroyed by  Cyclone Winston in Feb, 2016

The first of these was the formal Kava Ceremony which is cultural to the South Pacific Islands.  During the Kava Ceremony, a cup of Kava grog is presented to the elders and leaders of the meeting.  While this occurs, these people have a chance to speak to the meeting at large.  Then, members of the working team would have opportunities to present key aspects of their programs and key important details of the Ministry’s working programs.  These programs focus on the realities of climate change and the ways that members of the village have responsibilities to take action both individually and collectively to help protect their families and to prepare for the continued changes that their village will experience as the conditions of the local climate continue to change.

Focusing on surviving the conditions of climate change is important to Fiji.  Simply looking at it’s makeup of over 300 islands allows for an easy understanding of why.  Under traditional and preparedness conditions, each island – even each village, should be self sustaining.  This means that food production, water cleanliness and storage; as well as secure housing and protection from water shortages are all responsibilities of the local government.  Through the COP23 program relationships, village elders are able to address concerns about the future needs of the villages and to build relationships with the employees from various agencies who will have the responsibility to address the needs.  Some of the needs addressed include: adequate long term planning for food resources, protecting against erosion, infrastructure to keep clean water available, and ensuring that adequate mangrove protections exist.

This leads directly to the secondary part of each day’s programming, hands on mitigation!!!!  It’s in this time-frame that members of the team, working together with the members of the loImage may contain: 1 person, sitting, child, outdoor and naturecal village community – get their hands dirty doing the work to prevent or mitigate against the impacts of Global Climate Change.  This time presented opportunities to learn how to set up nurseries to plant coconut fields and mangroves, protect against erosion by planting deep root grasses, cleaning up litter to protect the water supply as well as fisheries, and planting climate change resistant crops.

cop 23 coconut planting

Ministry of Agriculture representative, Irene Singh (left) explains the importance of planting traditional Fijian Coconut Trees as  Provincial Administrator Ropait Rakadi (right) and members of the community participate in planting a new field of trees.

Through these important hands on activities, both young and old were able to take some active role in supporting their village.  Recent events, especially recovering from the impacts from Cyclone Winston, bring understanding and urgency to active preparations and rebuilding efforts.  This practice aligns with the time tested phrase, “It takes a Village”, which well look at further in my next article.

Image may contain: 5 people, grass, outdoor and natureImage may contain: 1 person, sitting, child, outdoor and nature

Some tips to running a successful community litter cleanup

 

 

finding things in the water

Students from the Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado having fun cleaning the Cherry Creek in Downtown Denver as part of 2015 Earth Week Activities.(www.facebook.com/wassup)

Participating in a community based litter clean up group has many great benefits.  In addition to making an impact on the visible trash in the environment; cleanups are great ways to enjoy some sunshine, teach your children about littering, and to make or strengthen friendships.  If you aren’t already participating in a community cleanup, they are easy to start and a great way to meet new people or build upon the relationships between those in community organizations you are already involved in.  Here are some tips to making  your own community clean up teams experience a successful one that will last for years to come.

Partnerships

When it comes to the issues of pollution, there are already a wide number of agencies in your community who are fighting the problem and they are just waiting for you to reach out and contact them.  The first place you contact will probably be the only one you have to reach out to.  Start with your towns park district office or other natural spaces office.  These government entities are dependent on volunteers to assist with many community tasks like maintaining parks, bike paths and trails.  Without the hundreds of thousands of hours volunteers give annually across the country, guests and frequent users would find these areas in a significantly different condition.  One added bonus of working with these groups is that there are often volunteer appreciation events on an annual basis or other perks like passes into zoo’s or museums based on the number of volunteer hours.  More importantly, your local park district is likely to have the materials you will need to organize a monthly cleaning event, thing like garbage bags and trash grabbers, to be used free of charge.  Many organized administrators may also have their district mapped out by area so that no one group is cleaning an area that was just cleaned the day before by a different group.  They will also likely send paid staff out to collect the bags of debris collected so that your efforts are not wasted by animals opening bags searching for food.  Many agencies will also ask for a total of hours volunteered for statistical purposes.

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Small quantities of litter have become a big problem all over the world.

Organization

When it comes to planning a clean up, being organized is very important.  If partnering with an agency like the EPA, they may have scientific data to be gathered to assist in their continuing efforts to identify areas which need greater oversight and assistance.  Such scientific data often includes specifics like, how many aluminum cans, cigarette butts or plastic particles of debris were collected.  Plan on separating the debris by recyclable and non recyclable materials. Also make sure your partner organization knows when you are having your clean up so that they can come and remove the debris that is collected. Having a plan in advance of a team gathering will be especially important.  Identifying how many persons will be needed and their roles can help in recruiting to ensure that there are plenty of people to make the work load light.  Additionally, individuals who may not be able to physically bend and pick up human debris may be encouraged to come if they understand that there are different roles like data collection or event photographer to be filled.  Photographing your cleanups is always a great way to share the wonderful work your group is doing and at some annual volunteer gatherings photos of groups in action may be shared before or during the thank you ceremonies.

Other areas of organization should include – verifying the location, having adequate gloves, waste bags and garbage grabbers for those who will need them; having a map of the area to be cleaned and setting time limits.  If your group is going for monthly cleanups, setting a limit – generally 2 hours – will encourage repeat volunteers.  It can be easy to focus on the total amount of waste in an area, by setting time limits you help minimize the risk of burnout.  By sticking to your planned area and knowing that your group has done it’s part a sense of pride will be felt by all.  If there is more than your group can manage within it’s set time, there is always the opportunity to invite friends join in and cover more ground at future events.  It is also important to remember to provide an option for post clean up fraternization.  Finding a monthly community event like an art walk, or grabbing refreshments at a local favorite provides time for both talking about the action ( cleanup ) and strengthening bonds between participants.  This will be a reinforcement that builds repeat volunteers and often encourages them to bring a friend next time.

Social Media
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Besides likes and loves of photographs, social media can be a powerful tool in many ways.  Social media allows for volunteers to find and share pictures of their wonderful experience so that friends and family will consider both the act of cleaning up after others and thinking twice about littering in the first place.  Additionally, tech savvy volunteers will not only register for clean ups, but they can also take advantage of such features such as sharing and saving the event in their personal calendars so that they get a reminder on the day of that they have something important to do like help protect the planet they love so much!  Making a page for your group can also be a fun way to stay in touch about the global issue and solutions others are creating to fight the problem.  Make sure one of your volunteers is dedicated to catching people in the act of cleaning up, as well as taking photographs of the total amount of waste being collected.  Group photo’s are also an important way to show how much effort goes into keeping protecting the nature we love.  In time you may be able to use your groups photos to generate business support such as free or discounted food at your local gathering place or to ensure important grant funding for agencies like your park district who need it very much or placing infrastructure like recycling bins where they can do the most good.

I hope these three tips will be helpful in getting your group started in this important community responsibility, taking care of the world around us!  Pride in picking up is a great way to build community, get some exercise and make a difference in the world around you.

You can learn more about the need to clean plastic and other trash from these great websites:

http://www.earthguardians.org

http://www.5gyres.org/

http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/

 

 

Issues island nations face with modern consumption practices.

Beach debris at Lion’s Park -Tutuilia, American Samoa shows the impacts of both localized littering and ocean debris being deposited on the shoreline.

In the modern era, gone are the days when whole island villages consumed all the food they needed by planting gardens, fishing in the ocean and picking food off of the trees.  With the modernization of consumption practices comes a whole new slew of issues island nations have to face.  These items can be listed in three major categories:  health, infrastructure and pollution.  Over the last 40 years as consumption practices around the world have significantly changed the way island communities interact with the world around them.

Non Communicable Diseases – Issues with Health

One of the largest problems with modernization of island communities is the overall diet that is being consumed by the population as a whole.  According to the World Health Organization, a transition has occurred from pathogen based diseases to food intake and activity based health concerns.  In the 2011 report on American Samoa the WHO reports;

“The most serious health issues relate to the increase in chronic diseases associated with lifestyle, with their roots in improper nutrition and physical inactivity. Significant increases in the prevalence of obesity, in both sexes and at increasingly younger ages, are associated with a number of these conditions. Hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, type II diabetes mellitus and its complications, arthritis, gout and some forms of cancer are among the most important chronic diseases. (http://www.wpro.who.int/countries/asm/1FAMSpro2011_finaldraft.pdf)

These dietary concerns are largely focused on the prevalence of foods packaged in metal lined plastic bags.  Prepackaged foods fall out of shipping containers like waves on a shore.  The names and varieties are as diverse as the country of origin the store owners call home.  In American Samoa, local markets are rarely operated by indigenous islanders and are instead run by entrepreneurs from places like Vietnam and China.  As part of the big picture of the problems with the local economy, this is one of the issues that many may point to regarding causes of money leaving the local economy at a catastrophic rate.  What can be said to be growing in America Samoa at an enormous rate is the wasteline of children.  With the prevalence of packaged food, the tastes of children are turning to this highly addictive, easy to consume food.  And the results are showing.  Diabetes, anemia, cancer and heart disease are all appearing as part of a modernized Samoa that are not part of it’s history and culture.  According to a guest speaker at a recent farming education event, the island of American Samoa is currently facing a 40% or greater population diagnosis of Diabetes.  This staggering statistic is supported by the American Diabetes Association

Pollution – What happens to all that packaging?

 Another part of the island life that was never part of it’s original heritage is the packaging from these manufactured goods.  Items like steel food containers, aluminum cans, plastic bottles and bags with a metallic lining are being shipped to the island and are offloaded from shipping containers by the tens of thousands every couple of weeks.  With these imported materials comes a requirement to dispose of these materials on island or export them for reclamation of the natural resources they contain.  In the case of many Pacific Island Nations with no recycling programs, the eventuality for the majority of these items is the community landfill.   For islands with recycling initiatives in place, these programs are often source separated materials – requiring individualized participation at a community drop off point instead of curbside pickup.  The need to expand collection he problem can be addressed by acquiring the next stage in technology, MRF Units.  The issue is expanding the capacity to recycle to include single stream sources like generated from public recycling containers like those found in community parks and at business locations, further allowing or even mandating by law – curbside collection that occurs in most, but not all, states.

Littering is a common behaviour in American Samoa.

Aluminum cans are littered into this hole in the sidewalk on a regular basis even though they are collected multiple times a week. This type of mentality shows the lack of education and need for local recycling programs.

What do you do when there is no concentrated focus on recycling as part of the cultural norm?  Unfortunately, as is often seen in American Samoa, where the focus of recycling does not exist – excessive littering and open burning of trash does.  This creates two specific problems.  One, emissions from burning trash are often toxic, especially when burning plastics and hazardous materials like batteries.  In addition, island based littering adds to the global burden of mitigating ocean pollution efforts by groups like The Plastic Pollution Coalition and 5 Gyres.  Due to the creation of litter on island nations combined with relatively short distances for litter to travel to reach the ocean,  much of this debris can become ocean debris as it enters streams and estuaries that feed into global currents.

With limited space to increase infrastructure, meet growing population needs and prepare for rising sea levels  expected with continued melting of the global ice shelves and glaciers; island governments will face many difficulties between balancing the population’s desires for manufactured and consumer goods and the need manage the waste stream produced by a growing consumption of these goods.  Without the implementation of infrastructure to separate and process the packaging from these goods, many governments are likely to find themselves beyond reasonable capacity in managing their island’s waste streams.

Unfortunately, even with a focus toward capturing recycling goods, there are other issues to be focused on throughout the search to develop solutions.  One reason recycling programs often have difficulty taking off is the cost of shipping materials off island.  When local businesses ship items inbound for the community to purchase, it’s easy to add the costs of shipping these items into the retail price.  However, without enhanced manufactures responsibility to reclaim or assist with the costs of shipping the items or their packaging off island, governments will continue to find the cost of shipping recycled goods to be greater than the resale value of the raw materials themselves.  It will only be with a blend of government action, education, and increased infrastructure that the combined issues of healthy lifestyles and waste management can be effectively tackled.