Tackling single-use polystyrene waste in Seychelles |05 May 2023
Despite local efforts to tackle plastic pollution, our consumption and disposal of single-use plastics (SUPs) remain a major threat to our natural environment and health.
Single-use plastic, or disposable plastic, is any plastic item that is used once and then thrown in the trash.
Being a small island developing state with an established ‘throwaway culture’ and very limited local production, we unfortunately rely greatly on imported SUPs.
Taken individually, a plastic bag to carry our samoosas or a wrapper on a candy can seem harmless. Their convenience can unfortunately make us forget about their steep environmental costs.
It is important to remember that an estimated 380 million tonnes of plastic is produced every single year and around half of it is single-use plastics.
Additionally, 89 percent of the plastic in the ocean is also estimated to be single-use plastic items. Of the various SUPs that exist, one that is considered a particular ‘waste nightmare’ is polystyrene, or more specifically, Styrofoam. These single-use plastics are cheap to produce, extremely lightweight, impact resistant, waterproof, good insulators and buoyant. These properties make them popular choices for fisheries and aquaculture operations, such as for buoys and food packaging, including fish boxes or cool boxes. We can also observe several polystyrene food trays in local grocery shops. Unfortunately, this low-cost material has practically no market for recycling
Its light weight and brittleness make it very mobile once discarded. As a result, large quantities escape from landfills and waste bins, breaking down into smaller pieces and finishing up in waterways and the ocean. Like a lot of plastic, EPS has chemically absorbant properties, allowing harmful toxins to accumulate over time. As you can imagine, this becomes a major threat for marine animals that mistake Styrofoam flakes for food. Once in the food chain, this then also becomes a human health problematic.
Styrene is a liquid that is chemically linked to create polystyrene. In 2018, after years of debate and evidence collection, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had reclassified styrene, from being a “possible carcinogen” to a “probable carcinogen”. Other research studies have also shown concerning health impacts in humans. Despite these findings, polystyrene products are still widely produced and utilised across the world.
To help tackle this issue in Seychelles, Sustainability for Seychelles (S4S), supported by Four Seasons Resort Seychelles, has been looking at an abundant item found in many local grocery shops: polystyrene food trays. These are used to pack frozen foods such as meat, fruits, and vegetables. Although Styrofoam take-away boxes were banned back in 2018, polystyrene food packaging continues to enter the border.
S4S has been conducting research on eco-friendly alternatives for this particular single-use plastic. The local NGO is planning to import and test a few samples in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment (MACCE). Although the cost of such alternatives has proven to be an obstacle, this initiative will allow to test the interest and willingness of local retailers to replace single-use plastics with more sustainable options. Should you be a retailer and have an interest in such alternatives, please contact S4S on email@example.com
Contributed by S4S