PNG says plastics were introduced to “make life easy”, but studies have proven plastics are found in people.

When Pawa Limu grew up in Papua New Guinea (PNG), life in his village was simple. He was raised in a close-knit community where people co-existed peacefully and in harmony with nature.

Survival in terms of food, shelter and clothing was dependent on the forest, farming, hunting and the ocean.

But a lot has changed since. The impact of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste, has made life extremely difficult.

An escalating plastic pollution crisis, which has severely impacted his nation, has brought him to Paris, the city of love and the capital of France. Despite contributing less than 1.3% of the 14 million tonnes of global plastic pollution, PNG and Pacific communities are amongst the worst affected by the crisis.

“In PNG, the problem of plastic pollution is very bad. The soil is polluted, the rivers are polluted, our seas are polluted, there is plastic everywhere,” he said, as he admires the wrought-iron lattice Eiffel Tower on the Champ de Mars, from the top floor of the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. “For PNG, the impact is there. Everyone from the villages, to the towns, cities, they are impacted. Plastics is used everywhere, in almost everything.”

As the Manager of PNG’s Marine Environment Protection, Limu is among Pacific delegates amplifying our One Pacific voice as negotiators engage in the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-2).

A treaty is expected to be finalised by the end of 2024, although there remains a lot of work to be done. With the Eiffel Tower as their office view, Limu and other Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) regularly meet to coordinate their work at INC-2.

 Limu believes most of the communities in PNG, and Pacific nations at large, do not understand the harmful impact of plastic pollution although he is sympathetic about the lack of awareness.

“Our forefathers had no idea about plastics. They looked after our environment and they handed us a sustainable way of living, which included traditionally woven baskets and the like,” he remembers.

“Plastics were introduced and they told us that it will make life easy. Our people didn’t know the impact it was going to have and now many studies have proven that pregnant mothers have micro plastics, which means babies also have plastics.

“We are breeding a generation that will have plastics in their bodies. This is a disturbing thought for us and our population, and we don’t even know what the full impact would be just yet.”

Limu is passionate about making a tangible difference and it is why he is pushing for an urgent and ambitious global plastics treaty, which among other things, he hopes will raise awareness about the health, environmental, economic and social impacts of plastic pollution.

“We only have one environment, that environment supports the livelihood and existence of mankind. In the Pacific islands, we are small islands with a small landmass and yet we are at the forefront of this crisis,” said Limu.

“We don’t produce plastics but the impact of plastics that are imported and the ones that wash up on our shores from other regions is enormous. So a global treaty is very important for our future generations, our environment, health, and livelihoods. In Paris this week, we must walk away from INC-2 with a zero draft, we don’t have time to waste.”

The work at INC-2, from 29 May to 2 June 2023, was expected to define the main features and possible scope of the future instrument. It is possible that after discussion of the options paper, a mandate would be given to draft a zero-draft text for the international legally binding agreement, to be circulated ahead of INC-3 in Nairobi, Kenya, in November.

“The work we are doing in Paris is very critical for our people back home. I feel it is very important for the INC process to identify problematic plastics and eliminate them. I’m sure technology is available, scientific knowledge is there, and there is also traditional knowledge where natives can help. We all have a role to help but in terms of a solution, we need to have a global framework to provide guidelines on how everyone addresses the issue.”

Plastic pollution remains a daunting challenge for the biggest Pacific island nation with a population of more than 9 million. PNG recorded 90,000 tons of mismanaged plastic in 2010 and by 2050, it is projected that volume would have more than tripled. Plastic pollution is especially a challenge in the nation’s capital of Port Moresby given the limited recycling facilities. When it rains, the rubbish on the ground blocks the drains which leads to flooding on the streets.

Waste is eventually washed into the ocean.

The PNG Government with key partners are working to try and remedy the problem. The country first attempted to ban single use plastic shopping bags in 2004 and in 2009, the PNG Government introduced a ban on non-biodegradable single use plastic shopping bags policy.

“We have a legislation for single use plastic,” Limu said. “Shops are no longer using single use plastics but what about the other forms of plastics? That’s where we need a legally binding instrument to drive the global effort to deal with these other forms of plastics. Something needs to be done to protect our future generations.”

This story was written by Sosikeni Lesa, originally published at SPREP on 01 June 2023, repsosted via PACNEWS.

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