World Environment Day 2023 is a reminder that people’s actions on plastic pollution matters. This year’s theme is centred around Solutions to Plastic Pollution. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness around the steps governments and businesses are taking to tackle plastic pollution are the consequence of this action. Ionie Bolenga is an Australia Awards graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Science and a double major in Forensic Science and Chemistry. Ionie’s outstanding achievements were recognised by Queensland’s University of Technology, graduating with a Distinction. Ionie now works as Principal Officer of Waste Management & Pollution Control at the Department of Environmental Protection & Conservation (DEPC).
As Principal Officer, Ionie’s role is to ensure the environmental protection agenda of Vanuatu is safe guarded through the implementation of the Waste Management Act, Pollution Control Act, the Ozone Layer Protection Act and Chemicals Management. These are the legislations and mandates Ionie manages directly within her role at the DEPC. Vanuatu started addressing the issues associated with plastics in 2018, and while the plastic ban phases have been legislated, more awareness on environmental protection is still required so that communities better understand the impacts of plastics pollution in the ocean, on land and in the atmosphere.
Ionie explains ‘since 2021, the DEPC has undertaken nationwide waste literacy trainings in all six provinces of Vanuatu. This included waste literacy awareness in communities and schools as well. This year the Government has introduced the five-bin system in schools to promote waste segregation so that children see value in the various types of waste, ensuring not every item ends up in landfill‘. The DEPC has also continued to encourage communities and schools to practice the 3R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
With a passion for investigative science, Ionie feels fortunate to be applying the knowledge gained through her Australia Awards degree to the environmental protection sector within Vanuatu. Ionie recently attended the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), held from May 29th-June 2nd 2023 at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Headquarters in Paris, France. This was to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. Ionie further explains ‘I feel that Vanuatu is on the right track to be a part of this work given that Vanuatu took the bold step in being the first country within the Pacific to start addressing plastic pollution through the ban of single-use plastics in 2018. The INC meeting is a platform for all Pacific Island countries to work together to address the impacts of plastics in the region‘.
Through a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, Ionie joins a number of committed delegates addressing an issue that impacts upon the world’s environment as a whole.