Other countries around the world had made similar moves, but Vanuatu’s Government said it was going further than even its Pacific neighbours and aimed eventually to become plastic-free.
Around 2,000 people signed a petition last year supporting legislation to ban single use plastic bags in Vanuatu, and the Prime Minister first announced plans for a ban mid last year.
Toney Tevi, the head of Maritime and Ocean Affairs within Vanuatu’s Foreign Ministry, said the ban would be part of a wider ocean policy.
“We all agreed after national consultation that Vanuatu’s ocean has to be clean for generations to come [and]to keep the ocean clean of plastic was one of the major concerns,” Mr Tevi said.
Christina Shaw, the CEO and founder of the Vanuatu Environmental Science Society, said the ‘rubbish census’ she had been overseeing as part of a clean-up in Port Vila over the past three years showed how much rubbish had accumulated in Vanuatu’s capital.
“Until you get into the drains and count it, I think everyone can see there’s a little bit here, but don’t realise how much until you count it and say ‘look these are the thousands of plastic bags that we picked up over this week’,” she said.
More than 1,000 takeaway containers were collected by Ms Shaw and her clean-up volunteers in Port Vila last year, 641 of which were the polystyrene foam ones which are also going to be banned by the Government. You can also see this here to know of what all equipments they needed to weed out the plastic from the waters.
“[I’m] happy that polystyrene is included as they are a problem in Port Vila,” she said.
The Minister in Charge of Foreign Affairs, Ralph Regenvanu, said the Government would focus on getting rid of other plastic products, too.
“We’re also looking to ban all plastic knives, forks, straws, those kinds of things,” Mr Regenvanu said.
“We are working with the private sector to make as sure as possible we don’t adversely affect companies who are manufacturing plastic products in Vanuatu.
Mr Regenvanu said another move would be to look at new ways to dispose of plastic bottles, for example, requiring suppliers to buy them back after use.
His ministry acknowledged it could be a sensitive move.
“We have to deal with bottles in such a way that everyone is happy about it, that we’re doing as much as we can, not turning a blind eye on plastic bottles and trying to do it accordingly in ways that everyone will be happy about,” Mr Tevi said.
Ms Shaw agreed dealing with items like plastic bottles would be a lot harder than the move simply to ban plastic bags.
“A lot of things come in plastic bottles and as net importer, it’s hard to completely ban plastic bottles of all descriptions—water bottles, shampoo bottles etc,” she said.
“Some plastic bottles are recyclable but currently the cost of shipping them out to somewhere that will buy them is too expensive.
“Trying to make recycling more viable would be a good option, but also reducing the amount [of plastic]and some incentive to import or manufacture using glass instead of plastic would probably be better for the marine environment.”