As the world pledges swift measures to ban single-use plastics and tackle plastic pollution, the Maldives is trying to do its part.
Many local NGOs, businesses, schools and some government bodies have taken up the cause with promising initiatives.
Secret Paradise Maldives declared a “war on straws“. The tour operator is asking its partner guesthouses to make a pledge to stop the use of plastic straws.
Seven out of 18 guesthouses have made the pledge as of June, Ruth Franklin, the company’s sales director, told the Maldives Independent.
The company also offers island tours where tourists can join beach cleanups.
“It really is a big talking point among visiting tourists. When they see plastic washed on the beach and in the ocean, they ask us how it’s being handled, what is being done,” she said.
“The voice of the people should be heard. And Maldives also have to listen to the tourists. They have an opinion, an expectation especially given where they come from. It’s an issue from a tourism perspective as well, not just from an environmental perspective.”
The Maldives Authentic Crafts Cooperative Society (MACCS) hopes its Plastic Noon Gotheh (A non-plastic way) project will encourage plastic-free lifestyles among Maldivians.
“It’s not that people don’t know it’s harmful, it’s that we’ve grown too used to it, and it’s hard to get rid of quickly,” says chairwoman Aminath Abdulla.
“People say we need plastic bags to throw away trash, that WAMCO [the state waste management company] refuse to take the trash unless it is put in plastic bags, so it is hard to change these quickly.”
Aminath believes that small changes could add up over time.
“For example, don’t put every single item in a separate bag while shopping so that you don’t end up bringing twenty bags home from grocery shopping.”
There have been signs of progress.
Single-use plastics have been banned in school premises. Some cafés and restaurants in the capital have stopped using straws and plastic bottles.
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.
But environmental activists say effective policies must be implemented for meaningful change.
While appeals to reduce plastic consumption and waste were made on World Environment Day, local NGOs condemned the hypocrisy of “creating and expanding a culture of bottled water consumption.”
A new water bottling plant that will produce 10,000 plastic bottles every hour, is being set up in Kulhudhuffushi.
They also question the consistency of policy-making in other areas.
In 2015, the tariff for non-biodegradable plastic bags was hiked from 200 to 400 percent. But since then the import of oxo-degradable bags, endorsed by the Environment Protection Agency and exempt from the custom duty, has risen sharply.
Nearly 80 million biodegradable bags were imported last year, according to Maldives customs statistics.
Environmentalists say these bags are more harmful as it disintegrates and is easily consumed by fish and other marine life.
A report submitted to the EU parliament in January concurred that oxo-degradable plastics do not represent a long-term solution. It noted risks that fragmented plastics will not fully biodegrade and accumulate in marine environments.
Together with 27 million non-biodegradable plastic bags, a total of 106.5 million plastics bags were imported to the Maldives last year.