Plastic straw ban gets mixed reaction

Market vendors and businesses are prepared to ditch plastic straws tomorrow as the nationwide ban on plastics comes into effect. 

Details of the Government’s ambitious plastic ban were announced last month by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s (MNRE) through campaign posters which have been installed around the city reminding people to “support the ban.”

Some market vendor selling young coconuts (niu) are getting ready to abandon drinking utensils altogether and return to more traditional methods.

“Just drink from the coconut, don’t use the straw” said Tupu Naseri from Manono, a niu and vegetable seller at Fugalei Market. 

“Many people don’t like using straws. They just open the coconut and drink.”

Lote Seumanatafa from Falealupo and Palisi agreed people will be fine to return to drinking from the coconut.

“We are not worrying about the ban, it’s good,” she said.

“It’s good to make our air good to breathe.”

Both market vendors said they would not be buying replacement paper straws.

But down the road at Manai Restaurant, director Adele Keil said she is “panicking.”

With little guidance on what is or is not included in the ban, Ms Keil said she was unsure how to move forward.

“I hope SOS (Special Occasion Supplies) and all the suppliers and wholesalers will bring in the paper straws, if there are any.”

She said she hasn’t seen prices or quotes for paper straws, and hasn’t heard for sure who is bringing them to Samoa, but she is holding out for reasonable prices.

If no suppliers are bringing paper straws in, Manai may have to import them, Ms Keil said. She said they hadn’t considered using metal straws, or removing straws from the restaurant altogether.

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Ms Keil sounded doubtful that the restaurant would stop using straws.

“We can’t help it; we need the straws for niu, for our other drinks, soda. It depends on our customers, some of them ask for straws so we have to provide service.

“Service is our main concern.”

Ms Keil was so unsure of the ban regulations she asked the reporter for clarification on what would be illegal come Wednesday. 

She was relieved to learn takeaway dishes from plastic or Styrofoam would not be included, because she was worried about losing takeaway revenue. 

A lack of information or support from MNRE has left Ms Keil feeling a little concerned about future bans.

“I would expect them to come over and explain,” she said of the Ministry.

“The only time I found out [about the ban] was on Observer, and SOS were warning us about it for this year, but MNRE never came around,” she said.

Ms Keil said she wants MNRE to visit her so that she can air her concerns on resource bans and ask for help to be environmentally and economically sustainable. 

With polystyrene bans on the horizon for 2020, Manai needs to start thinking alternatives. Already, Ms Keil believes paper plates are not good enough for takeaways.

If changes away from plastic and polystyrene products are too expensive, Government needs to help businesses make up the cost somehow, Ms Keil said, or at least help find alternative resources.

“If we bring in the wrong stuff, who loses out? At least send someone around to explain to us what is allowed in the country, and what is not,” she said.

A shop manager at SOS Theresa Vili said in anticipation of the ban, all packets of plastic straws are down to T$20 per box, and new arrivals of paper straws are in stock.

“We fully support green, eco-friendly products, we have to take care of the environment,” she said.

“We’ve been stocking paper straws here since September, preparing for a long time.”

Ms Vili did say she can see how price could be an obstacle for anyone switching from plastic to paper. At SOS, two tala can buy 100 plastic straws but only 25 paper ones.

“We have to think of our kids future though, and work together to save the environment.”

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