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There is so much plastic waste here in Rarotonga and our landfill is almost full. We are passionate about reusing plastic...

Kia Orana,
My name is Sabine Janneck and I am proud to be a citizen here in the Cook Islands since 2006. Ever since we arrived here we cared about our environment and our Island and tried to make a difference with organising cleanup days underwater and above as here in Rarotonga waste is a big problem.
We have a great rubbish collection which is free of charge and since a couple of years we have also been trying to divide the rubbish into general waste, plastic and tin cans.
But still this is not enough as most of the population still uses the old habits to burn or bury their rubbish.
What I learned in this time is that of course the government wants to develop the country as fast as possible to give their people work and a good living - therefore they want to develop the tourism industry which is the biggest income here - but they forget that we just don't have the infrastructure and facilities and the workers to cope with it. More tourists means more rubbish and also it means the lagoon has to cope with more people.

Unfortunately in the last years many trees were cut down - which breaks my heart to make the roads bigger - it's good to fill potholes, yes but the charm of the old Rarotonga has slowly vanished.
We have more cars (way too many if you ask me), still have no advanced disposal fee in place and have a landfill that is at the end of its capacity.

There is not much money left for the youth and education because "everything else is more important”. So in the beginning there was not much effort to educate our people and especially our children in waste reduction, recycling, conserving our lagoon, stopping the sewage to go into the lagoon (just to name a few topics). NES - National Environment Service is trying to keep up and is doing a good job nowadays but still there is so much to do.

But the biggest challenge we face here is that it is hard to educate the older generation. They don't know it better than burning all their rubbish or digging holes to bury the rubbish. (to be honest sometimes I can understand this as there is no place to take your old fridge)
There are companies who recycle (general transport) but they only can do as much as they can, we also have a car crusher but I think that is broken atm.
So you see the problems are piling up.

The main goal at the NGO, Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) I am involved with, is education of the public and especially the youth and kids. They are our future and if someone can make a change it will be on their shoulders. The kids are telling their parents what they learn and I think the parents they listen to their children.

Under this umbrella I went to Mauke in 2021 with the TIS to do a weaving workshop with some senior girls of their local school. You could see that they were soaking up the knowledge like a dry sponge. Our children are researching the internet and the world is open to them and they see the problems we have, but without guidance it is not very easy to make a start or make a difference. The girls absolutely loved our talks about the environment and what they could do to make a difference, even on their small island. So they decided to create "the reusable team" to make a small but significant difference on the island.

As well, I am the founder of Circle Cook Islands (Circle stands for Cook Islands Recycling Creation Living Environment).
Everyday we use wrappings without a second thought and throw them away. They deserve a second chance, transforming themselves, to show their new utility to the world that rejected them.They need to redeem themselves, from their sentenced life cycle, to realise their dream. Our work is to resuscitate materials and find lost treasures in the discarded items of the modern world's progress. Since Covid hit us in 2020 we were the first business to close down (our Dive shop) and since that I am a full-time environmental upcycling artist. (not only plastic wrapper are used, inflatables, bike inner tubes, fabric offcuts and tin cans find their way into my bags and jewellery)

The worldwide problem of plastic waste is immense. Between 1950 – 2018, an estimated 6.3 billion tonnes of plastics have been produced globally. A great deal of it ends up in landfills and the world’s oceans as waste, polluting coast lines, killing marine life and collecting in oceanic gyres – forming floating garbage patches, some the size of France. Plastic production also contributes to greenhouse emissions and climate change.
And climate change doesn’t stop before a small paradise like ours. We can feel it very real. Water levels are rising, temperatures in the lagoon are rising too, longer times without rain, or sometimes too much rain.
I was very grateful for the enthusiasm of the kids in Mauke that they wanted to do something and make a difference.
There is hope!
Kia Manuia

Story Information:

Country: Cook Islands

Topic: Waste Management

Photo or video credit: Sabine Janneck

Text Credit: Sabine Janneck (with video)

Date : 6 June 2023

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