During eXXpedition’s third Virtual Voyage, the multidisciplinary crew took part in a virtual discussion with local representatives from the Republic of Vanuatu to talk about the local challenges of the global plastics issue. This post summarises the thoughts, ideas, challenges and solutions discussed during the session. 


Vanuatu, officially the Republic of Vanuatu, is an island nation. It consists of over 80 islands which are volcanic in origin and feature long narrow coastal plains. Located in the South Pacific Ocean, the archipelago lies east of northern Australia and west of Fiji. It’s a small country with a total size of 12,189 km².

Natural History

Vanuatu has a tropical rainforest climate. Despite the tropical forests, there are a limited number of plant and animal species. This is because geologically the islands in Vanuatu are younger, smaller in size and isolated from large landmasses. Frequent disturbance due to the passage of tropical cyclones or volcanic activity has also had a profound effect on the distribution and abundance of species, especially on smaller islands. It does though, have an endemic species of flying fox. Vanuatu is renowned for great diving, with crystal clear tropical waters and spectacular coral reefs and seagrass habitat, which supports a population of Dugongs.

The Plastics Issue

Like many island nations, Vanuatu has been affected by plastic pollution, with waste management a major concern, however, Vanuatu and it’s population of 275,000 are responsible for less than 0.1% of marine plastic debris. Vanuatu has a strict approach to plastic, banning single-use plastic bags, drinking straws and styrofoam food containers back in 2018, with large fines for those violating the rules and just a few months given to businesses and shoppers to prepare for the legislation to come into effect. 27% of plastic waste on the island nation is single-use nappies, so Vanuatu is hoping to become the first country to ban disposable nappies too – legislation was supposed to come into effect in 2019, then pushed to 2021.

“For the past few years we’ve been working very hard to stop plastic bags, containers and nappies.”

Representatives from Vanuatu including Pallen Philip from World Vision and Martika Tahi from the newly formed Vanuatu Environmental Science Society (VESS) 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:

Challenges Discussed

  • The lagoons around Vanuatu are important fish breeding areas. It’s very important for the community’s livelihood, food and health to mitigate the impacts of local and international sources of plastic and toxic pollution. 
  • General waste management. There is a landfill but until recently it’s only been Port Vila that’s been collecting waste. They have a pre-paid garbage bag system called the ‘yellow bag system’, but when you get out into the more rural communities there’s very little waste management so the communities are having to deal with it themselves.
  • The community tires to source food locally for hotels, restaurants etc., but the supply is not consistent enough. As a result Vanuatu is still reliant on imports which pollute the environment.
  • Finding donors that are willing to support multiple waste management trials and initiatives.

Solutions Discussed

  • Build community awareness around recycling of plastic.
  • World Vision are supporting women and young people to build businesses around waste management which also generates income for those involved. For example, one community group in Vanuatu have been separating rubbish at events and doing clean-ups in residential and public areas.
  • Vanuatu doesn’t yet have traditional waste collection systems like those in the West. This presents an interesting opportunity to do something completely different. For example, perhaps we shouldn’t call recyclable items ‘waste’. Instead they could be referred to as a resource to give them more value and collected using a return scheme.
  • Social enterprises and big retailers are making reusable nappies.
  • The government is looking to implement container deposit schemes.
  • RecycleCorp was established in Port Vila in 2007. Since exporting its first shipment of scrap metal in early 2008 it has have developed into a multi-faceted company. The main activities are the collection, processing and export of scrap metal, machinery hire, fabrication and contracting. RecycleCorp is committed to making Vanuatu’s recycling efforts the best in the Pacific.
  • The Department of Tourism has launched the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Strategy.

“We work hand in hand with the government, other NGOs and the community.”

Find out more about Virtual Voyage: Vanuatu here.

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