“These ugly plastic wastes that don’t go away”

29 May 2019

Poster in a shop window in Vanuatu

“Our world has a problem with waste – and it’s hitting people living in poverty the hardest. Today, two billion people in the world’s poorest countries are living and working among piles of waste – that’s one in four of us. Drinking polluted water. Breathing toxic air. Battling sickness. Each day waste mountains are growing causing preventable deaths.” So writes Renew our World as they launch their latest campaign tackling waste.

The Anglican Alliance is a founder member of Renew Our World and is mandated to connect and equip Anglicans across the Communion to safeguard the integrity of creation, the fifth Anglican mark of mission. In a short series of stories to coincide with the launch of Renew Our World’s campaign, we are focusing on the problem of waste in different parts of the world, as seen through the eyes of people who live there. This first piece is written by Tagolyn Kabekabe, the Anglican Alliance’s Pacific Facilitator. Tagolyn describes the problem of plastic waste in her region and the beginnings of action to tackle it.

Reusable shopping bag

As you reflect on the issues raised, you might like to look at the Sunday School resource ‘Oceans of Plastic’, written by Revd Rachel Mash of the Anglican Communion Environment Network and Green Anglicans. You can find the resource here: Oceans of Plastic.

Tagolyn writes, “In the past, waste was never an issue in the Pacific area as all waste either decayed naturally or was recycled for community use.

“The Solomon Islands, like many developing island countries in the Pacific, have an ever-increasing waste problem. Sadly, materials that end up as waste which are not biodegradable have been introduced to the country and wider region.

“Single-use plastic bags and bottles are the main plastic products that are polluting and destroying our ecosystems. As these waste products cannot decompose naturally, they occupy and fill up spaces wherever they are dropped or are blown by the wind or carried by water.

“These plastic waste products are made from toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans, fish, birds and other animals. They also increase the incidence of illnesses relating to incorrect disposal of the said plastic waste product amongst humans and animals alike – both domesticated and wild. Plastic bags have been mistaken for food that can kill birds, fish and other creatures, including turtles, dolphins and whales.

The market in Luganville in Vanuatu is now plastic-free. Traditional ways of carrying the produce have made a come-back.

“The scale of the presence of this plastic waste is unimaginable as one finds it everywhere. Either they were carried by humans, animals, and birds or blown by the winds or carried by water through floods and changing tides. They are easy to identify as they do not blend with the natural environment. Still lacking amongst the populace is the awareness that such plastic waste is harmful and must be disposed of carefully, otherwise not to buy and use such products at all.

“Plastic waste can contribute to illnesses in the human population too. The stagnant water that collects in waste plastics provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which transmit malaria and dengue fever parasites. Malaria and dengue fever are prevalent in almost all Pacific countries and in some of them are leading causes of death for both young and old people. In addition, burning of plastics releases greenhouse and toxic gases that can cause respiratory problems.

“Both churches and governments are working together to address plastic waste in the Pacific region with a number of countries already developing legislation to ban single-use plastics.

Posters explaining the plastic ban are prominently displayed in shop windows in Luganville

“In Papua New Guinea, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, the Most Reverend Allan Migi, has spoken publicly on banning single-use plastics and replacing them with the traditional string bag (commonly known as ‘bilum’).

“In Vanuatu, single-use plastics have been banned from all shops throughout the country and people are encouraged to use their own eco-bags. Market vendors are strongly encouraged to sell fresh fruits and green coconuts instead of soft drinks and snacks from single use plastics. The bishops of the two Anglican Dioceses in the Republic of Vanuatu are supporting these calls and encouraging their parishioners to follow suit.

“During a coastal clean-up in 2014, my late mother, Dalcy Nedi Omese, reflected on the changes she had seen during her lifetime, saying, ‘In the past we did not have to deal with rubbish as all people knew where to dispose of their rubbish in their designated areas. Today, we have plastic waste that litters our coastlines, reefs, streams, villages and everywhere. The introduction of all this foreign waste, though we enjoyed their contents, is not helping us. We burn them [and] they told us not to because they are poisonous; we bury them, and they don’t break down into soil. It’s beyond us, these ugly plastic wastes that don’t go away’”.

The Anglican Alliance connects and equips the worldwide Anglican family to work for a world free of poverty and injustice and to safeguard creation.

Take action by getting involved in Renew Our World’s waste campaign: details here.

And see our prayer and worship resources on creation care here.