Three Baa Atoll islands pledge to end open burning in Soneva-led clean waste management initiative

Three islands in Baa atoll have pledged to end the open burning of island waste, in a radical shift towards eco-friendly waste management to be called ‘Namoona Baa Atoll’.

The pledge was made by the presidents of Maalhos, Dharavandhoo, and Kihaadhoo island councils, during a workshop on waste held at Soneva Fushi resort from January 5-8.

“With a population of 529, the waste management problem in Kihaadhoo is more manageable than in bigger islands. But we lack a system to manage waste in a way that is responsible towards the environment and human health. Through Namoona Baa Atoll, we can finally end the practice of open burning of waste in Kihaadhoo — that is a day I look forward to,” Ibrahim Fazeel, Kihaadhoo council president, was quoted in a statement, as saying.

In order to end open burning of waste, which poses a health and environmental hazard and damages tourism, each island will create an ‘eco-centro’ waste-to-wealth centre that will sort, recycle and reuse island waste.

The eco-centro waste-to-wealth model was pioneered at Soneva Fushi, which is located close to Maalhos. At the resort, food and organic waste, metals, and bottles are chipped, ground down or composted, and turned into things of economic value, such as concrete building blocks and fertiliser. Plastic waste is either recycled or used to create useful new objects.

Soneva has pledged funds from its Soneva Save our Seas programme to support creating the eco-centros on Maalhos, Dharavandhoo, and Kihaadhoo. The first eco-centro is due to open in Maalhos this summer. Open burning in Maalhos is expected to end shortly after the island’s eco-centro is fully operational.

“Maalhos is doing better than most islands when it comes to waste management but we still face problems managing solid waste. The Namoona Baa Atoll initiative will revolutionise the way we manage waste on Maalhos,” Abdullah Shujau, Maalhos council president, said.

Abdullah Shujau, president of Maalhos island council, explains how composting is done in Maalhos. PHOTO/ SONEVA

During the January workshop, the island council presidents helped forge a new partnership amongst their islands, Soneva Fushi and Common Seas, an international NGO dedicated to reducing marine plastic pollution.

“Dealing with the current volume of single use plastic waste is expensive for communities to manage, off-putting for tourists, and harmful to fish stocks. The items most commonly found on Maldivian beaches are plastic bottles, disposable nappies, cigarette butts, straws and plastic bags, so we already know where start. We are excited to work collectively and urgently to solve this problem,” Jo Royle, Managing Director and Founder of Common Seas, said.

The new partnership — part of the international Clean Blue Alliance which supports islands to prevent plastic waste leaking into the ocean — sets a course for Baa Atoll, and eventually the Maldives, to become a global leader in halting ocean plastic pollution.

“As an island that relies heavily on guest house tourism, this is an exciting prospect for Dharavandhoo. I hope that what is being done on Dharavandhoo, Kihaadhoo and Maalhos will be well received and the government and other stakeholders will look at these three islands as a model to be replicated on other islands,” Ali Maajidh, Dharavandhoo council president, said.

Senior officials from the President’s Office and the environment ministry, who attended the workshop, took note of the partnership and the plans to open eco-centros on Maalhos, Dharavandhoo and Kihaadhoo.

Plastic waste pollution is a huge problem in the Maldives, with plastic bottles littering beaches, plastic bags smothering coral reefs, and plastic detritus killing marine life.

More than 280,000 plastic water bottles are used daily in capital Male, and 104 million non-biodegradable plastic bags were imported to the Maldives last year. The President’s Office along with government ministries and state-owned enterprises recently banned the use of single-use plastic bottles.

Other countries are also taking action against single use plastic. Kenya has recently banned single use plastic bags. Vanuatu has pledged to be the first Pacific country to ban plastic bottles and bags. France will bring in a total ban on plastic cups, plates, and cutlery from 2020.

Soneva, which operates two resorts in the Maldives, recycles or reuses 90 per cent of their waste and has a zero waste target. Soneva replaced branded bottled water 10 years ago in favour of producing drinking water on site in reusable glass bottles, which has prevented the production of 1,500,000 single use plastic bottles.

“If we work together, we are sure we can create the right environment for the Maldives to be the world’s most progressive country on single use plastic. If we project forwards just a few years, we can see that all islands will have thriving waste-to-wealth centres; there will be no plastic bags; no plastic straws; islands will have their own water bottling plants; no guesthouses or resorts will serve water in single use bottles,” Sonu Shivdasani, Founder and CEO of Soneva, said.

Main photo:(From left to right) representatives from Dharavandhoo, Common Seas, Soneva, Kihadhoo and President’s Office with the signed pledge. PHOTO/ SONEVA

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