During eXXpedition’s second Virtual Voyage, the multidisciplinary crew took part in a virtual discussion with local representatives from the Republic of Fiji to talk about the local challenges of the global plastics issue. This post summarises the thoughts, ideas, challenges and solutions discussed during the session.
The Republic of Fiji is a Melanesian island nation that comprises more than 330 islands, 110 of which are inhabited and 500 islets. The archipelago was formed primarily through volcanic activity, starting around 150 million years ago. It has a tropical marine climate and lies around 5000 km south of Hawaii and 3000 km north of Sydney, midway between Vanuatu and Tonga. Fiji is an anglicised spelling of the Tongan pronunciation of Fiji, historically, Fijians called their home “Viti”.
Fiji has a diverse and rich marine environment, popular with the tourism and scuba diving industries, and is worth billions of dollars to the economy. The warm, tropical waters and tidal currents make Fiji an ideal place for coral reefs, supporting over 1500 fish species, with many endemic species. The Fiji Government has embarked upon a process to protect 30% of its waters by 2030 and a number of traditional inshore fisheries have established management plans for no take areas.
The Plastics Issue
Like many island nations, Fiji has been affected by plastic pollution, with waste management a major concern. Plastics have been declared a food security issue by Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), Kosi Latu. A study on plastic ingestion in fish from the Pacific, including Fiji, showed a 97% ingestion rate for microplastics – 30% more than the global average. In January 2020, a ban on the manufacture, sale and supply of single-use plastic bags went into effect in efforts to achieve a plastic-free Fiji. A year later, a ban on polystyrene products in the country went into effect on 1st January 2021, as part of the government’s Climate Change Act.
Representatives from Fiji including Daniel Lund, Special Advisor – Climate Action at The Fijian Government, and Jodi Smith, Pipeline Business Contact at Matanataki, joined a discussion with the eXXpedition crew, providing an insight into the issues it faces in terms of environmental impact and waste management. Read the highlights below:
- Like many island nations, Fiji is dependent on imports but lacks the resources and infrastructure to continuously remove the quantity of plastic that comes in, especially on the outer islands.
- Waste collection is not centralised, lots of private companies have their own operating procedures. Out of 12 local private recycling companies, only 3 did anything with plastic.
- Plastic products are being bought with the understanding that they’re more than a single use product but in reality the poor quality of the products means they are being used only three or four times before they break and need to be replaced.
- There’s a huge surge in waste after disaster events. Any structures that aren’t secured essentially disintegrate during extreme weather causing plastics, glass and other materials to become dispersed along Fiji’s coastline.
- Nappies are a big issue. They are expensive, discarded frequently and not always properly managed.
- Awareness still needed, especially among businesses.
“Before the ban on single-use plastic bags came into effect, a lot of people were in support of it. However, once the ban came into effect, thicker plastic bags took their place.”
- Reduce the amount of plastic that needs to come to the island in the first place.
- Government bans on single-use plastic items.
- Incorporate waste management and pollution into the school curriculum.
- Help communities understand the implications of plastic pollution and set clear goals to make regulations successful.
- Innovation of more durable products to prevent the large quantities of discarded plastic products.
- Markets for traditional alternatives (i.e. using banana leaves for packaging).
- Enhance infrastructure for waste management (properly managed landfills, recycling plants, etc.).
- Identify (or create) a mechanism for the transient population to report plastic waste or dumping that they see in the Fijian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
- Investment from the Sustainable Ocean Fund. The fund creates investor value and social impact by providing growth capital to companies that harness the ocean’s natural capital. They invest in scalable businesses in the real asset sector that build resilience in coastal ecosystems and create sustainable economic growth and livelihoods. The fund is building a blended portfolio of sustainable seafood, circular economy and conservation focussed businesses. In addition to strong financial returns, the fund’s investments deliver substantial positive conservation impacts to the ocean and coastal habitats. The Fund implements innovative financial approaches such as performance-based payments and advance market commitments.
“One of the things that has been really driving change is a community bottom-up approach rather than governments making regulations and then forcing them down upon communities.”
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Thank you to 11th Hour Racing who are supporting this work.