Malé, Maldives: [8th May 2024]: Key findings from a plastic pollution assessment that highlight opportunities for Government, businesses and communities in Maldives were published today.

This press release is also available in Dhivehi here.

The findings are the result of a year-long holistic programme called Maldives SHiFT to help tackle plastic pollution in Maldives, led by eXXpedition CIC, in partnership with the Republic of Maldives’ Ministry of Climate Change, Environment and Energy, the UK’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the University of Georgia, The Maldives National University, Parley Maldives, The Commonwealth, Fauna & Flora, and with funding from the UK Government’s International Development as part of the Defra Ocean Country Partnership Programme.

The remote geography of the Maldives’s 1,200 coral islands, coupled with intense tourism, makes the country particularly susceptible to challenges with plastic pollution and the management of other waste materials.

Small island communities, like Maldives, contribute a small fraction to global plastic waste generation but suffer the impacts the most, yet they are leading in finding adaptable, innovative solutions as can be seen with the Maldives recently enacted Single-use Plastic Phase-Out plan to target plastic products commonly found in litter and marine environments, making it a very interesting time to run the Maldives SHiFT programme.

Between July and October 2023, a circularity assessment was conducted by researchers on three islands in Greater Malé – Malé, Villingili, and Hulhumalé – to collect community-level data on plastic usage including studying how consumer plastic flows into a community, is consumed, and flows out, either through waste management systems or leakage into the environment. The aim is to inform local, regional, and national policy and decision‐making, to reduce leakage of single‐use plastic and increase circular materials management. 

Initial results identified by the circularity assessment were presented in an action-focused stakeholder meeting in Malé in October 2023. Seventy-five participants from Government, industry, NGOs, academia, and international experts took part in discussions, sharing further insight and opinions on the findings, contributing additional data ideas, and expressing enthusiasm to pursue research-driven opportunities to tackle plastic pollution.

Highlights from the findings include opportunities to: 

Establish reusable alternatives over single-use alternatives to plastic

The impact of the Single-use Plastic Phase-out plan was evident in the restaurants surveyed in the research as most businesses have switched from single-use plastic to alternative materials like bamboo, paper or aluminium. However these materials are still predominantly single-use and are not recycled so they still contribute to overall waste generation. Reusable products were found to be limited in availability, so the opportunity now is for greater access and support for businesses to source suitable reusable alternatives plus increasing community awareness that drives uptake of reusable products that don’t need to be thrown away.

Increase international responsibility for imported plastic packaging in Maldives

The research shows that 95% of the products in stores in Maldives are imported. International companies are profiting from selling products in Maldives without contributing to the management of the associated waste. This highlights the need for ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ which is an opportunity to share the costs of waste management with producers and is especially salient in the context of current international negotiations around plastic pollution, namely the United Nations Environment Programme Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

Tackle a major litter contributor by increasing in-home water filtration 

Single use plastic bottles were in the top 10 most prevalent litter items identified in the research. Interviews conducted during the study revealed concerns from community members about the perceived safety and taste of tap water. In-home water filtration as well as reusable glass bottles, leveraging existing filling infrastructure, could deliver drinking water to residents with less plastic waste generation.

Question the emphasis that is put on recycling as the answer

Recycling systems are limited in the Maldives, due to the logistical, economic and storage space challenges presented by the remote geography of the islands and the limited quantity of recyclables generated. Plastic bottles and aluminium cans, both of which are highly recyclable, were in the top 10 most prevalent litter items in the surveys. Recycling is often touted as a key solution for plastic pollution but its appropriateness in the Maldives context is questionable due to the operational obstacles of collection and the cost of international shipping for processing.

“The intent is for the data in this report to inform ongoing stakeholder engagement around solutions to strengthen the circular economy and waste management in Maldives, as well as to provide a baseline for future assessment to monitor changes with the implementation of policy. We hope local, national and international decision makers in Government, business and the community will use the findings from Maldives SHiFT to further inform successful research-driven solutions in policy, infrastructure, and industry innovation that tackle plastic pollution in the Maldives. We would like to thank all our partners who have been instrumental in this research both in Maldives and around the world.” Emily Penn, Founder of eXXpedition

Find out more about Maldives SHiFT and the programme findings here.


Editors Notes:

The full Circularity Assessment report can be found here.

The summary report here (English).

The summary report here (Dhivehi).

Press pack including photos and figures here

Virtual Presentation: eXXpedition is hosting a virtual event and discussion with authors of the report, although the precise date of that is to be confirmed. To register your interest in attending please complete the short form here.

Contact: For more information about this news release, contact eXXpedition via [email protected], UGA via [email protected] or OCPP via [email protected].


About eXXpedition

eXXpedition is a not-for-profit organisation on a mission to help people understand the true ocean plastic and toxic pollution problem, so they can use their skills to solve it from sea to source. eXXpedition runs transformative journeys at sea, on land and online to research the causes of and solutions to the ocean plastic pollution problem, and virtual leadership programmes to inspire long lasting change in communities.

About OCPP

The UK government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)-funded Ocean Country Partnership Programme (OCPP) supports countries to strengthen marine science expertise, develop science-based policy and management tools, and create educational resources for coastal communities with a focus on marine pollution, sustainable seafood and marine biodiversity.

The programme is funded through official development assistance (ODA) as part of the UK’s Blue Planet Fund. Through the OCPP, the UK partners with ODA-eligible countries to deliver tangible and positive impacts on the livelihoods of coastal communities that depend on healthy marine ecosystems.  Work in OCPP is primarily delivered by the UK government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

About the Circularity Assessment Protocol and University of Georgia

Developed by the Circularity Informatics Lab at the University of Georgia, the Circularity Assessment Protocol (CAP) is a standardised assessment protocol to inform decision-makers by collecting community-level data on plastic usage and alternative materials. Grounded in materials flow and systems thinking concepts, the CAP uses a hub-and-spoke model to holistically characterise how consumer plastic flows into a community, is consumed, and flows out, either through waste management systems or leakage into the environment. The model consists of seven spokes: input, community, material and product design, use, collection, end of cycle, and leakage. At the centre, the system is driven by policy, economics, and governance with key influencers including non-governmental organisations, industry, and government.