Market voices, small business owners matter. Listen to their concerns

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 15 January 2019, 12:00AM

Small shop owners in the villages, market vendors and ordinary Samoans who sell basic food items like pork buns on the streets for a living have a legitimate complaint.

A few weeks before the Government’s ban on single-use plastic bags becomes effective, the question of a workable alternative to allow these small business owners to continue their operations has been raised. And rightly so.

The truth is simple enough. If you are going to take away something the masses have relied upon for years to make life easier, it is a must that you have to provide an alternative.

In this case, in the bid to protect our environment against the negative impact of plastics, the Government is following a growing global movement to get rid of single-use plastics.

Last year, the Chief Executive Officer, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.), Ulu Bismarck Crawley, made an important announcement.

“This issue is too large for us to sit by without taking any action.  By making these changes as a nation, our positive impact will be felt not only by us in Samoa, but also by our global community,” he said. “Samoa is proud to make this announcement as we enhance our Blue Pacific and join the global fight to restore our ocean and address damage caused by plastics.”

At the time of the announcement, the Government suggested reusable paper bags and reusable cloth bags as alternatives to plastic bags. Since the announcement, multiple public consultations have also come up with other ideas about the implementation of the decision. 

But not everyone is at ease.  On page 2 of the Samoa Observer on Monday, market vendors said that while they accept the decision is good for the environment, they believe it is imperative for the Government – and backers of the plan – to come up with a better and cheaper alternative for their small operations.

 “We are small businesses,” said Moulu Viliamu, who owns a pork bun stall.

“Unlike the bigger wholesales and big shops, we cannot afford reusable tote bags that they have shipped in. What we can afford are paper bags.” 

But he also pointed to another issue, saying that paper bags are not good quality for his type of business.

“We know that plastic bags are bad and switching to reusable bags is a good thing but we question how well this was really thought out. Of course this will work great with the bigger companies and businesses that can easily afford it, but what about us?” 

Shop owner, Aotoa Leiataua Elia, raised another extremely valid point.

 “Partly the reason why some of us are having trouble with coming to terms with the new law, is because there are still some unanswered questions we have,” Aotoa said.

“Do we have any other options beside paper bags? And who will be able to provide them for us?”

Ladies and gentlemen, these are valid questions. They are legitimate questions that should have been answered a long time ago. 

In Samoa today, not many people would dispute the reasons for the plastics ban. It’s fair to say that the majority of our people accept that these plastics do more harm than good. 

For instance, these plastics often end up on the streets, on our shores, in the seas and making our otherwise beautiful environment look ugly. In some cases, they end up buried in the soil. The toxic chemicals from them ruin the environment, and it washes back out to the sea destroying our precious marine life. And that’s not all. Some plastics end up in the fish we eat. 

This is horrible but the problem is not confined to Samoa.  Statistics tell us that at least eight million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean on an annual basis, with at least 51 trillion micro-plastic particles less than 5mm in diameter already in our oceans.

 “Studies now show that fish consumed by humans are ingesting the tiny ocean plastics, with 75 per cent of the world’s tuna landings from Pacific waters and national fish consumption in the Pacific is three to four times the global average, there is cause for concern.”

We couldn’t agree more. The ban on single use plastics is a great start.

But there are legitimate concerns that must be addressed. The questions raised by the market vendors and small shop owners are excellent and requires the Government and the private sector to come together to discuss a solution.

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 15 January 2019, 12:00AM

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