Tonga is looking at phasing out single-use plastics such as shopping bags, cutlery, straws and more starting next year, confirmed Director of Environment, Lupe Matoto.

Lupe told a regional conference last week that in September last year, Cabinet started the process to ban single-use plastics.

Work is currently underway with the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, who is assisting with the phasing out of certain single-use plastics.

“We are working on the policy. But because of this lockdown, it may take a bit longer,” she she said.

“There are a lot of things that we have to do, consultation with stakeholders especially the businesses.”

In the meantime, there are certain single-use plastics like straws and other stuff we can get rid of now, she suggested.

Water bottles are also an issue with small capsules brought in and filled up in Tonga.

“These come in a thousand bundles of little capsules,” said Lupe.

A quota system to limit the amount of water bottles imported will be looked at, with the hope of transitioning to glass bottles. And the department will look at stopping imports of single-use plastics and use what is left in the country during the phase out period.

This means people will have to look for environmentally friendly alternatives to import, such as recyclable shopping bags. Some businesses are already using paper bags and non-plastic bags.

As for recycling plastic, Lupe said it is expensive but the Pacific region is already looking at it.

“Organisations such as SPREP and SPC are working together to come up with a solution regionally.”

Over the last few years, many groups including the Fasi Anglican Youth, and the Tonga National Youth Congress have been campaigning for a ban on single-use plastic in Tonga.

These groups have been and continue to conduct regular rubbish collections consisting mainly of single-use plastic, at coastal and popular picnic areas, as well as public places.

Other Pacific Island countries such as Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji, and Palau among others have already banned single-use plastic

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