Over a million plastic bags are used worldwide every minute.
In the CNMI, five of the top 10 trash collected at the last International Coastal Cleanup were plastic. Microplastics (plastic pieces that are smaller than 2.5 cm) ranked second, plastic bottle caps and lids were fourth and fifth, respectively, and plastic bottles and food wrappers ranked seventh and eighth.
Plastic bottled water, for one, which takes over 1,000 years to degrade, are commonly used on the island. This makes the CNMI a contributor to the 35 billion plastic bottles being thrown away by Americans every year. That’s on top of single-use plastics, like drinking straws, which are also predominantly used on the island.
With this plastic problem on the islands, measures are being explored to resolve this, including a blanket ban on single-use plastic bags that is being mulled at the Legislature, and to ban the importation, production, distribution, and use of this plastic.
The Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, through its Division of Coastal Resources Management, is about to launch the Plastic-Free Marianas program and is working with a major local business to pilot the program.
“We will help businesses identify the ways that they can cut back on their plastic consumption with the ultimate goal of becoming a zero-waste company,” DCRM communications specialist Mallory Muña said. “We rely so much on importing, and everything is usually wrapped in plastic. One of the biggest things with Plastic-Free Marianas is educating people about their consumption, and not just on the afterthoughts of what do they do with all these plastic [that they have acquired].”
Plastic audits will be conducted, and plastic-free partners would have to commit to implement measures to cut down on the use of single-use plastics.
“I’ve been noticing just going around the island that there are businesses now that don’t provide plastic straws anymore,” ICC coordinator Colleen Flores said. “That could be the first step. We could work with [these businesses] in the future to take more steps to become more plastic-free.”
Several restaurants on the island have already transitioned into using bamboo or metal straws, metal cutleries and glass plates, with several shops also now advocating the use of reusable bags.
Aside from businesses, DCRM is also looking into CNMI having its first plastic-free event, and into schools as plastic-free spaces.
For more information about Plastic-Free Marianas and on how to become a plastic-free partner, contact Flores at email@example.com.