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Several Pacific Countries Announce Bans on Single-Use Plastic Bags

(July 18, 2018) On July 11, 2018, it was reported that Niue was the latest Pacific Island country to announce a ban on single-use plastic bags, following the implementation of a similar ban in Vanuatu, and related announcements by Samoa and Papua New Guinea. (Niue Joins Growing Pacific Movement to Ban Plastics, RNZ (July 11, 2018).) In fact, the ban imposed by the government of Vanuatu extends to other single-use plastics, specifically plastic drinking straws and polystyrene food containers, and the government of Samoa is examining similar restrictions.

Last year, Fiji implemented a levy on plastic bags. (Environment and Climate Change Levy (Plastic Bags) Regulation 2017 (L.N. No. 61), FIJI GAZETTE SUPPLEMENT No. 29, 163 (Aug. 1, 2017).) Other Pacific jurisdictions that have implemented bans or other restrictions include American Samoa, the Marshall Islands, Northern Marianas, and the Micronesian state of Yap. (More Pacific Islands Step Up Battle Against Plastic, RADIO NEW ZEALAND (RNZ) (Aug. 1, 2017).)

The bans and other restrictions follow discussions, including at the June 2017 United Nations Oceans Conference, regarding plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean. The final “call for action” of that conference included the following statement: “Implement long-term and robust strategies to reduce the use of plastics and microplastics, particularly plastic bags and single use plastics, including by partnering with stakeholders at relevant levels to address their production, marketing and use.” (Our Ocean, Our Future: Call for Action, UNITED NATIONS OCEANS CONFERENCE (last visited July 11, 2018).)

Niue

Niue, a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand, has a population of around 1,600 people. (The World Factbook: Niue, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (last updated July 11, 2018).) The chief executive of Niue Tourism told Radio New Zealand that the country would phase in a ban on plastic bags over the next twelve months, and that substitute reusable bags would be provided to each household, with assistance from the Niue and New Zealand governments. (Niue Joins Growing Pacific Movement to Ban Plastics, supra.) After the twelve month period, no plastic bags would be imported and there would be none for sale. (Niue Joins Growing Pacific Ban on Plastic Bags, DATELINE PACIFIC, RNZ (July 11, 2018).)

Vanuatu

The government of Vanuatu was the first in the Pacific to announce a ban on single-use plastic bags, along with plastic straws and polystyrene containers. The ban came into effect on July 1, 2018. Under the relevant order, made under the Waste Management Act No. 24 of 2014 (PacLII website), it is an offense to

  • manufacture, sell, give, or otherwise provide plastic shopping bags to other people (this does not include plastic bags that contain or are used to wrap or carry meat or fish as in this case plastic is needed for food safety and hygiene);
  • manufacture, sell, give, or otherwise provide polystyrene takeaway boxes to other people; and
  • manufacture, sell, give, or otherwise provide plastic straws to other people (this does not include straws that are an integral part of the packaging of a product—for example, a straw attached to milk or juice ‘popper’ boxes). (Plastic Ban, DEPT. OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION & CONSERVATION (last visited July 13, 2018); Waste Management Regulations Order No. 15 of 2018 and Waste Management (Penalty Notice) Regulation Order No. 17 of 2018, OFFICIAL GAZETTE No. 10 (Feb. 2, 2018).)

An individual who manufactures the relevant items can be penalized with a fine of 50,000 vatu (about US$450) for the first offense, and 80,000 vatu (about US$718) for a subsequent offense. Corporations face fines of 100,000 vatu (about US$890) (first offense) and 200,000 vatu (about US$1,780) (subsequent offense). Individuals caught selling, giving, or otherwise providing the items to others can be fined 20,000 vatu (about US$180) for a first offense and 50,000 vatu for a subsequent offense, while the fines for corporations are 50,000 vatu and 100,000 vatu. (Plastic Bansupra; Waste Management (Penalty Notice) Regulation Order No. 17 of 2018.)

Vanuatu is made up of 82 islands, with a population of around 283,000 people. (The World Factbook: Vanuatu, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (last updated July 12, 2018); Vanuatu Bans Plastic and Fines Rubbish Dumpers, RNZ (Mar. 23, 2018).)

Samoa

In June 2018, the government of Samoa stated that it “aims to ban single use plastic bags and straws. It is also intended that styrofoam food containers and cups will be banned once environmentally friendly options have been identified and are in use. It is proposed that alternatives to single-use plastic bags include reusable paper bags and reusable cloth bags.” (Plastic Bag Ban Initiative Consultations, MINISTRY OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT (last visited July 13, 2018).) The initial ban would come into effect in January 2019. (Id.Samoa Looks to Ban All Single-Use Plastic, RNZ (June 23, 2018).)

Samoa has a population of around 200,000 people. (The World Factbook: Samoa, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (last updated July 12, 2018).)

Papua New Guinea

In April 2018, it was reported that the government of Papua New Guinea would impose a full ban on importing or manufacturing all plastic shopping bags, with a one-month grace period before enforcement started. (PNG Imposes Full Ban on Plastic Shopping Bags, RNZ (Apr. 18, 2018).) This followed a ban on importing or manufacturing nonbiodegradable plastic bags that came into effect in 2014. (Id.)

The Minister for Environment and Conservation and Climate Change indicated that “the Environment (Ban on Non-Biodegradable Plastic Shopping Bags) Policy 2009 and the Environment (Control of Biodegradable Plastic Shopping Bag) Regulation 2011 implemented by CEPA [Conservation and Environment Protection Authority] since 2014 had not been effective, as the problems of plastic littering continues to worsen every day.” (Environment Levy Imposed on Plastic Bags, PAPUA NEW GUINEA POST-COURIER (Apr. 16, 2018).) He said that “[s]ome people are taking advantage of the fact that biodegradable plastic[s] are allowed for import, and import non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags amounting to several tonnes which is now becoming a great concern because plastic bags pose a significant threat to our fish and marine resources and our health and wellbeing.” (Luke Kama & Lemach Levari, Plastic Bag Ban, THE NATIONAL (Apr. 17, 2018).) Those who wished to continue importing or manufacturing plastic bags would be required to pay a levy in order to cover the cost of managing the associated waste. (Id.)

Papua New Guinea has a population of around 7 million people. (The World Factbook: Papua New Guinea, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (last updated July 12, 2018).)