The hidden hell of the Maldives and the startup that is trying to save paradise

Paolo Facco

On many islands in the Maldives, rubbish is burned in the open. Making plastic-producing companies accountable can be a way to finance environmentally friendly waste management.

When we think of the Maldives, we imagine white sand beaches and clear waters. This, says Paolo Facco, is the picture that luxury resorts send to the world, but in the places where people actually live, garbage turns the paradise setting into a burning inferno.

"Resorts have a lot of money and manage to deal with their garbage (where this garbage ends up is another matter... but at least it's not visible). If we go to the capital Malé or other atolls where locals live, the situation is totally different: in On many islands the garbage is collected and simply burned close to the beach."

"It's a shame. The Maldives has an incredible ecosystem, it's a paradise", laments the representative of Adelphi, a think-and-do tank based in Berlin, Germany, which since March 2021 has been working together with the NGO.

Zero Waste Maldives to help the archipelago better manage waste, with support from the United Nations Development Programme. This startup's proposal is to implement an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy in the Maldives, which obliges "producers of plastic goods or companies that produce plastic packaging materials to assume responsibility for managing the waste generated by its products".

Speaking on the sidelines of the Oceans Conference, Paolo Facco says that the first step was to understand the local reality - how much plastic is generated and who are the decision makers. Now, this startup is working directly with the Maldives Government to define an action plan that makes the private sector responsible for managing the waste that the consumption of its products ends up producing. For example, "if a company places a PET bottle on the market, it has to pay a specific fee to ensure the collection, transport and recycling of that bottle."

"This concept has been applied for decades in several countries in Europe, in countries like Spain, Germany or France, but in developing countries it is difficult because they do not have a good waste management system", he explains. The Maldives has a particular characteristic that makes everything more difficult: it is an archipelago made up of more than a thousand islands, about 200 inhabited, so "the transport of materials between different islands is very expensive, since it is done in small boats and the price of gasoline is very high", explains Paolo Facco.

"We live in a plastic-based economy, where everything has to be packaged, and people can't deal with the garbage they produce," he recalls. Waste management is expensive and governments in many countries do not have enough money to implement sustainable systems, so holding the private sector to account can help.