Located in the South Pacific Ocean, the island of Vanuatu has quietly been waging war against plastic pollution for quite some time. In 2018, the small island introduced one of the toughest bans on single-use plastic, significantly reducing the pollution of bags, straws and polystyrene containers from its land and oceans.

Despite the improvements, Vanuatu went a step further in hopes of one day successfully eradicating all plastic from the island. Soon after, the island announced that it would be adding additional single-use products to its ban. This would include plastic cutlery, grocery packaging and controversially, the first ban on disposable diapers.

As a country that imports most of its products and doesn’t have a recycling plant, most plastic inevitably ends up in a landfill. By banning plastic imports, Vanuatu is substantially cutting down on the concentration of plastic on the island. Not to mention, the lack of plastic bags has positively impacted the local community and has spurred economic development. Many are now choosing to purchase bags from locally sourced vendors that promote traditionally handcrafted patterns.

This is all part of Vanuatu’s efforts to better protect its marine life, a feat that is proving to be increasingly difficult in today’s climate crisis.

Small Island Developing States

Climate change is the number one threat to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Vanuatu. Despite barely contributing to global emissions, these islands are much more susceptible to natural disasters than others. Vanuatu is a clear example as an island suffering from mounting ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, coastal erosion, and rising sea levels.

One of the worst natural disasters to hit the island was after 2015’s Cyclone Pam. Food and water stocks were devastated with up to 95% of crops affected. Shortly after, with the island’s budget depleted by rehabilitation efforts, the government sought alternative ways to boost its economy.

One of the ways was through the Vanuatu Economic Rehabilitation Program. Introduced shortly after the disaster, the programme – now replaced with the Vanuatu Development Support Program – was a means for the island to attract foreign direct investment that would help Vanuatu rebuild. In turn, investors gain access to a variety of benefits including visa-free travel to over 100 countries including key business hubs in Europe and Asia. The concept was pioneered in the Caribbean in the 1980s and has since gone on to be a key driver of economic growth and sustainable development for many small island nations.

As the climate crisis progressively worsens, natural disasters will only be exacerbated by global warming putting islands like Vanuatu most at risk. It is up to larger nations to lead the fight against climate change by implementing effective policies and supporting countries that are more vulnerable to its effects. Until then, Vanuatu is taking matters into its own hands.  

Read more: Why is Plastic Pollution a Pressing Environmental Issue

Aisha Mohamed