The issue of waste mismanagement remains one of the most pressing environmental issues the Maldives faces. As we mark another World Environment Day to recognise the importance of our living environment to human health and wellbeing in every way, the situation is even bleaker with the mountain of additional medical and related waste generated as a consequence of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The global theme for World Environment Day this year puts the spotlight on ecosystem restoration. We are only too aware of the impact of unmanaged waste on ecosystems around the Maldives, and yet, solutions remain elusive. Communities across the country struggle to manage their local waste problem. Governance gaps continue to cause the waste disposal practices at community level to result in the degradation of important, finite natural ecosystem resources, including beaches, lagoons, reefs, mangrove habitat and wetlands as well as the ocean on which our lives and livelihoods depend. The impact of these practices on wildlife and biodiversity is increasingly becoming evident with the discovery of plastic inside fish, which is one of our staple food sources and economic lifelines. The impacts of waste on our natural ecosystems also significantly affect the nature-based services on which the Maldives’ tourism industry depends. This means that the two leading economies of the country are significantly and negatively impacted by waste.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that at a recent discussion with journalists, the Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology acknowledged that waste management is the most critical environmental challenge that must be addressed by her ministry. We completely agree.
We have shared our multiple concerns on the issue of waste mismanagement with the ministry and the public at various platforms. We remain committed and continue to raise public awareness for a zero-waste future, which we believe is not only possible but necessary. We are particularly disturbed by the recent step backwards in the enforcement of the much-anticipated single-use plastic import ban in the Maldives on 1 June 2021, which only confirms implementation failure. Maldives’ preparedness for this important change has been completely insufficient, a situation about which Zero Waste Maldives had forewarned the authorities.
The recent news of the vessel MV X-Press Pearl catching fire and running aground spilling various chemicals and nearly 28 containers of plastic pellets into the ocean puts into perspective the high risk involved in transporting raw plastic pellets. In 2020 alone, Maldives imported over 2,500 tons of plastic pellets which in various forms will likely end their lives in an open burning site or in our marine ecosystems, and potentially in the belly of wildlife and eventually in our water and on our dinner plates as microplastics. The real risks of importing plastic in these forms must be properly assessed. Marine litter and oceanic plastic globally knows no boundaries and Maldives is a receiving country of much plastic debris from ghost-nets from the Indian sub-continent to drinking water bottles from Australia. There is no justifiable financial gain to risk the willful importation of more plastics into the Maldives and we call on the government to review this practice from a public health and environmental impact perspective.
As we seek a cleaner future free from the harmful effects of waste on our health and wellbeing, we want to see fundamental and substantial reforms of the current waste management policies of the Maldives government.
We must no longer watch waste being moved from island to island and consider that to be a solution!
We must no longer tolerate centralised open burning as a waste management choice!
We must no longer choose incineration and its negative environmental and economic impacts as the only viable waste management option!
We must no longer waste public funds on failed models like waste-to-energy!
We must become responsible stewards of our ecosystems and take on waste management as a national emergency!
This can only be done by a clear shift in policy towards a zero-waste circular economy. Therefore, we call on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to take urgent measures to overhaul the Maldives waste mismanagement policy towards a zero-waste future that puts human and ecosystem health at its centre.