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Maldives opens first plastic recycling lab and vending machine

Some 104 million non-biodegradable plastic bags toxic to coral reefs and marine life were imported to the Maldives last year.



Under-fire Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim inaugurated the country’s first plastic recycling laboratory and reverse vending machine.

Built by Parley for the Oceans in the waste management company’s site in Malé’s industrial village, the laboratory has the capacity to recycle up to 500kg of plastic daily.

The global non-profit organisation is working with WAMCO to gather plastic waste from across the country, Shahina Ali, executive director of Parley’s Maldives chapter said at the opening ceremony. The lab will also function as an “education unit” on recycling for school children, she added, noting students from 45 schools are also collecting plastic waste to be sent overseas.

In his remarks, the environment minister noted that more than 800 tonnes of plastic waste were exported through Parley for recycling during the past 18 months.

On Tuesday night, Thoriq launched the Malé Water and Sewerage Company’s ‘Smart Bin,’ “the first ever reverse vending machine made for recycling in the Maldives.” Located in the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital on the capital’s outer ring road, the Smart Bin can dispose of any type of plastic bottle.

Reducing single-use plastic was the focus of this year’s World Environment Day. A pilot project to keep 900 dustbins in Malé’s roads was launched in the morning.

According to the UN, 104 million non-biodegradable plastic bags were imported to the Maldives last year whilst waste generation in Malé alone increased by 155 percent over the last decade.

More than eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean annually, which is toxic when ingested by plankton, fish and other marine animals. Reefs are at risk as corals consume microplastics and are unable to expel the tiny fragments.

In his Environment Day message, the minister stressed the dependence of the country’s tourism and fishing sectors on the health of coral reefs.

But a joint statement from 13 NGOs condemned the ministry’s hypocrisy and incompetence in “creating and expanding a culture of bottled water consumption.”

Even as the environment ministry talked about reducing plastic consumption, a new water bottling plant that will produce 10,000 plastic bottles every hour, is being set up in Kulhudhuffushi, the environmental groups observed.