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Plastic bans are a Polynesian issue

  • Author: Vanessa Lee Raymond
    | Opinion
  • Updated: August 1, 2018
  • Published August 1, 2018

A plastic bag tumbles in the wind on the Hillcrest Drive offramp as motorists travel along Minnesota Drive on Tuesday, April 26, 2017.  (Bill Roth / ADN)

As Anchorage and other Alaska communities contemplate banning single-use plastic bags and straws, I can't help but think how interconnected and diverse our state is. As a first-generation Samoan American, Anchorage is one of the most Samoan places I've ever lived. It's less Samoan than, well, actual Samoa, and more Samoan than Fairbanks, but both are all miles more "Samoan" in character, makeup and amenities than places I've lived in California, New York or Massachusetts.

If we look at single-use plastics from a broader perspective, Pacific Island nations remain the most affected by global plastic use. Ocean currents and tides are bringing most of the world's plastic to tiny nations with small populations and limited capacity to dispose of this waste. Reducing plastics is a Pacific Islander  issue.

Not only are Pacific Island nations most affected, they're also among the most active in restricting single-use plastics. Despite producing and using much less single-use plastic than other nations, Pacific Island nations have been leading the way in banning single-use plastics. A timeline of some of the bans and restrictions implemented by Pacific Island nations:

2011

– American Samoa plastic bag ban goes into effect (EPA).

2017

– Northern Marianas implements fines for shops offering plastic bags.

Vanuatu bans plastic bottles and plastic bags nationwide.

– Fiji charges 10 cents per plastic bag.

– Palau bans plastic bags at point of sale.

– The Marshall Islands ban the import of plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.

2018

– Papua New Guinea bans manufacturing or import of non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags.

– Guam begins charging 25 cents per bag.

2019

– Vanuatu first country in world to ban plastic straws (proposed).

– Samoa banning plastic bags, straws and phasing out Styrofoam containers.

While I cannot speak for the other Asian and Pacific Islander communities here in Anchorage, I do urge Anchorage's Samoan elders, any matais (our titular chiefs), and faife'au's (pastors) to speak up on the issue of plastics. In the early 2000s, Samoa and American Samoa both experienced how poorly written or implemented legislation was ineffective in banning plastics. In recent years, both Samoas have subsequently revised legislation for plastic bans.

Let our Samoan leaders here in Anchorage share their experience with all Alaskans. Likewise, let our Samoan voters make a decision that affects them in both their homes.

Fa'afetai tele lava.

Vanessa Lee Raymond is a first-generation Samoan American. She lives in Anchorage.

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