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Tuvalu: Ban on Single-Use Plastics Commences

(Aug. 19, 2019) On July 29, 2019, it was reported that the Tuvalu government will ban certain single-use plastic items from August 1, 2019, and will also introduce an importation levy on specific items to help pay for their recycling or shipment out of the country once they are dumped as waste.

According to the Director of the Department of Environment, Soseala Tinilau, the import ban applies to “[s]ingle use plastic bottles under 1.5 litres, plastic plates, cutlery and food wrap,” as well as plastic bags, straws, and cups, while levies will apply to items such as refrigerators and vehicles. The new rules are contained in two regulations: the Waste Management (Prohibition on the Importation of Single-Use Plastic) Regulation 2019 and the Waste Management (Levy Deposit) Regulation 2019.

Regarding breaches of the single-use plastic importation prohibition, the new regulation imposes a fine of up to TV$5,000 (about US$3,420) on individuals for a first offense, the same fine and/or imprisonment for two months for subsequent offenses, and a fine of up to TV$10,000 on bodies corporate (reg 5(2)). Under schedule 1 of the levy deposit regulation, glass bottles, aluminum cans, and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles containing certain beverages or oils are subject to a deposit amount of 10 cents per container; large appliances are subject to a deposit of TV$100 per item; small appliances to TV$30 per item; office and family vehicles to TV$300 per vehicle; motorbikes TV$200; small construction equipment TV$500; medium construction equipment TV$1,000; and heavy construction equipment TV$2,000.

The two regulations were made under the Waste Operations and Services Act 2009, which allows the relevant government minister to make regulations which “impose special levies on particular goods which have adverse affects on the environment” (s 10(1)(a)), and regulations “imposing prohibitions in relation to the importation, exportation, manufacture, use, storage or transportation of certain objects, substances or things which may become wastes” (s 11(1)(a)).

Tuvalu, which has a population of around 11,000 and land area of approximately 26 square kilometers (less than 10 square miles), is “reliant on imported bottled water and harvesting rain water for drinking.” It is hoped that the new waste measures “will ease pressure on an overflowing rubbish dump [landfill] on Fogafale,” one of the islands that make up the atoll of Funafuti, where more than half of the population lives. The landfill is located at the northern tip of the island, with ocean on one side and the lagoon on the other. Mr. Tinilau stated that an algal bloom in the lagoon is thought to have been caused by leaching from the site.

A previous World Bank interview with a waste management officer in Tuvalu, published in May 2019, also stated that there is a lack of equipment at the landfill site, as well as “a lack of land and a lack of topsoil to cover the waste.” This means that plastic waste can be blown into the ocean. Government agencies are “working towards plans and ideas to rehabilitate the dump site to better compact and bury all our waste,” as well as “working on a recycling station, clean up campaigns on the islands to remove waste with students, youths and communities, and we are leading awareness and education programs in schools that show the effects of not handling plastic waste properly.”

Tuvalu’s ban on single-use plastics follows similar measures introduced by several other Pacific Island countries since early 2018, particularly with respect to single-use plastic bags.