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With ‘waste-to-wealth’ model, Baa atoll islands aim to stop open burning

The Soneva Fushi resort pledged funding for eco-friendly waste management centres.



The Soneva Fushi resort has pledged funding to set up eco-friendly waste management centres on three neighbouring islands in Baa atoll.

In order to stop the open burning of garbage, Maalhos, Dharavandhoo and Kihaadhoo in Baa atoll – a UNESCO biosphere reserve famous for whale shark and manta ray sightings – aim to create “eco-centro” facilities to sort, recycle and reuse waste, a “waste-to-wealth model” pioneered at Soneva Fushi.

“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 fertilizer,” Soneva explained in a press statement. “Plastic waste is either recycled or used to create useful new objects.”

The open burning of garbage on local islands poses a public health and environmental hazard, a longstanding problem that has been worsened by plastic waste pollution with bottles, bags and other detritus littering beaches, smothering coral reefs and killing marine life.

Open burning is expected to end in Maalhos after the island’s eco-centre becomes operational by September.

The island councils of Maalhos, Dharavandhoo and Kihaadhoo pledged to end open burning during a workshop held at Soneva Fushi in early January.

The council presidents formed a partnership with Soneva Fushi and Common Seas, an international NGO dedicated to reducing marine plastic pollution, to launch the waste management initiative, dubbed ‘Namoona Baa Atoll’ (Exemplary Baa Atoll).

“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,” according to Soneva.

Plastic is toxic when ingested by plankton, fish and other marine animals. Reefs are at risk as corals that consume microplastics are unable to expel the tiny fragments.

“As an island that relies heavily on guest house tourism, this is an exciting prospect for Dharavandhoo,” said Ali Maajidh, Dharavandhoo council president.

“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,” observed Jo Royle, managing director and founder of Common Seas.

“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.”

According to Soneva, 90 percent of waste generated on its two resort islands in the Maldives is recycled or reused. A decade ago, branded bottled water was discontinued in favour of producing drinking water on site in reusable glass bottles, which it says prevented the production of 1.5 million single-use plastic bottles.

Some 104 million non-biodegradable plastic bags were imported in the Maldives last year and more than 280,000 plastic water bottles are used daily on the capital island.

In recent weeks, several government offices have banned the use of single-use plastic bottles as the new administration launched a campaign against plastic pollution.

Parley for the Oceans, a US-based organisation, is working with resorts, schools and fishing vessels to intercept plastic, which is then shipped abroad for recycling. It is making design-wear from plastic waste.

“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,” said Sonu Shivdasani, CEO and founder of Soneva.

“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.”