Significant strides by the Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau in the area of environmental conservation should set an example for Guam and help inspire change locally, said members of the Micronesia Climate Change Alliance, a nonprofit focused on combating climate change.
In 2018, Palau banned the use of certain types of sunscreen, which contain chemicals shown to damage sea coral. And just this month, the FSM banned all Styrofoam and single-use plastic products.
"I think Guam is really behind in that we could definitely be doing more," said MCCA founder Michelle Voacolo. “I feel like we could have been on top of that sunscreen ban yesterday. I don’t know if it is because of all the tourists we get, but we really have to stop prioritizing profits over the island and the community and our planet.”
MCCA policy fellow Moñeka De Oro added that while a ban on single-use plastics that was passed two years ago will go into effect on Guam in 2021, the local ban is not as far-reaching as the one in the FSM and does not include a ban on other single-use plastic products and Styrofoam.
“Right now, even the plastic bag law doesn’t even outlaw ‘biodegradable’ plastic bags,” De Oro said.
According a report by the University of Guam, multiple bleaching events from 2013 to 2017 killed off more than one-third of all the coral reefs off Guam.
“We don’t have a sunscreen ban. And our coral are already in such a fragile state,” Voacolo said.
While government intervention is crucial, Voacolo said, community efforts can also foster change.
In the coming weeks, she said, MCCA will launch the Micronesian Precious Plastics Program to show the community how plastic can be repurposed into items for resale.
“We have these machines that can break down plastic and mold it to other niche items like keychains and magnets,” Voacolo said.
The machines, sourced from a manufacturer in Oregon, grind and melt plastics and have been used all over the world to make items from single-use and even multiple-use plastics, said De Oro.
While the MCCA plans to use the machines as a social project and a way to generate a small profit for the organization, others could turn recycling into a money-making venture, with a little investment: The machines run for about $5,000 to $20,000.
“I am hoping that when we launch the program, it will inspire others to adopt this little business mode and help to clean up some of the waste in our environment. People or the government can buy these machines and create new things and sell them back to the community,” Voacolo said.
Voacolo said while the program is a small step in conservation compared to the bigger moves by other island nations with fewer resources than Guam, the cumulative impact can add up.
“Can a little initiative compete with a governmentwide ban? Absolutely not. But a lot of little initiatives from the local community can make a difference and possibly push the government to take action,” she said.
To learn more about the program and MCCA, or to donate, email Micronesiaclimatealliance@gmail.com.