By Student Delegate Julia Guerrein
Imagine sitting on a towel on white sand. Blue water stretches out from the beach, and a warm breeze is blowing. The breeze brings a smell—the smell of garbage. Out of sight, but not out of smell, is a landfill that is filling rapidly.
Small island nations are not known for their wide, rolling plains. Rather, these places generally have minimal land. This becomes a problem when island nations need to dispose of their waste through landfilling, recycling, or composting because it requires infrastructure, which takes up space. In Samoa, for example, there are mountains of tires and junkyards full of barrels of old oil that have nowhere to go. “Here in Samoa and other islands as well there’s no recycling that goes on. Pretty much we collect and process it for export to countries overseas,” said Marina Keil, the President of the Samoa Recycling and Waste Management Association, in an article by the UN Environment Programme. “But it’s hard for us to export because of the operational and the freight costs.” In an effort to solve this problem, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and China Navigation Company formed a partnership called Moana Taka.
This public-private partnership allows Samoa and other Pacific countries to ship recyclables to recycling facilities abroad for free. The partnership started at three shipments in 2018 and expanded to fifty shipments from four nations in 2019. In 2020 and beyond the partnership is working to include more islands. Even with the partnership, recycling is still challenging for island nations because recyclables have varying levels of marketability. For example, transporting liquid waste requires permits, which increases the cost and burden of disposal. Conversely, clean plastic is relatively simple to transport and is highly marketable.
Like these Pacific nations, the Seychelles has worked on finding a place for their waste. In coordination with several different organizations, the Seychelles has conducted a series of studies to assess their waste management system. One of these studies was a collaboration between the University of the Seychelles and a Swiss university, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich.
The two universities produced a report that assessed the solid waste management system in the Seychelles. The report, published in 2017, found that one of the major problems is the rate of landfilling. The report stated that waste management in the Seychelles is a complex and multi-faceted challenge, which requires all stakeholders—including government, businesses, and households—to work together. Some of the solutions suggested are turning biowaste into biogas, optimizing recycling markets, and incentivizing waste reduction. The report estimates that landfills in the Seychelles will be full by 2040 unless the stakeholders make changes. “Given that land is a very scarce resource in the Seychelles,” the report concludes, “waste management planning should start now and consider all options available to reduce landfilling rates.” Although managing waste is an ongoing process, small island nations are making progress. The Moana Taka partnership and the Seychelles’ cooperative efforts are just two examples of small island nations addressing waste management challenges.