I’ve just returned from a wonderful family holiday in Vanuatu and one thing I noticed was the packaging and other useful items made from natural materials. Of course, I knew the Ni-Vanuatu would have such brilliant solutions for going about daily life, I just wasn’t sure how much of the culture was still practiced. It turns out traditional knowledge is still highly valued. Below are some photos of the things I came across. Obviously these items present few issues at the end of their useful life because nature can reclaim and reuse the resources. There is still the issue though, of preventing over exploitation of natural resources. Here are some photos from the Port Vila Market Place:
The next few photos are from our village visit. This was our favourite day and it was a great opportunity for my kids to learn about traditional ecological knowledge and for me to casually make some points about natural resources and waste. They thought their presents were very cool.
During our ‘Round Island’ Tour we enjoyed mangos for snacks and coconut juice through a straw made from a sapling branch.
In addition to these experiences we avoided creating waste during our holiday by only purchasing activities (no shopping for souvenirs or anything like that) and by eating in for all meals (I ain’t cooking on holidays). Luckily reusable napkins, ramekins, and so on were common where we ate. Most of the time we didn’t feel like snacks because of the heat – ice creams excepted, and the water was drinkable in our area so we used our water bottles. We did have a couple of canned drinks but I’ve seen and heard conflicting information about whether cans can be recycled in Vanuatu.
But alongside all this eco friendliness was clear evidence of waste management issues. Plastic rubbish was everywhere and I could feel this little island drowning in it. Plastic packaged convenience items are constantly brought to the island, consumed and dumped because the infrastructure and behaviour changes needed to deal with these different waste materials has not been established or given the same priority as economic growth and social development needs. A Global Atlas article ranks Vanuatu as the 12th highest trash generating country at 3.28kgs per capita per day. Thankfully, consideration for the environment is now recognised as a national priority and there are many people working to address waste management issues.
For me this trip reinforced the importance of ‘refusing’ as a first step in waste management. If I had been relying on recycling as my main method of achieving zero waste I may not have developed the skills and knowledge to lower my level of consumption and corresponding waste during this trip. What is recyclable is dependent on location. I also further pondered the balance between utilisation and enjoyment of natural resources with their conservation, and on top of that, population growth. There are often not simple answers but we can always aim to do the most good and the least harm with the knowledge we have.