We experienced a flood of waste being washed into the ocean in Bali earlier this year. At the same time, we received a call for help from Long Island (Andaman Islands, India) and started looking for solutions for small islands crushed by a rubbish wave. We’d like to present some of our findings and keep looking for more ideas and initiatives to deal with rubbish, best even before it enters the water bodies around the world, ending up in our oceans. This way we’d like to contribute to share and grow knowledge on the matter of the rubbish wave and solutions for small islands.

Looking back

Last year we took a close look at recycling and discovered that the facts are not looking as positive as countries such as Germany are presenting with their recycling quota: Out of sight, out of mind. Plastic waste isn’t recycled (yet). We looked into community based solutions and recommendations to change production as a very first step to make recycling a reality: Plastic planet: Minimising plastic pollution.

We happily lived on Long Island (Andaman Islands) for half a year (A walk down memory lane: Out of India). Even though we came there at the end of monsoon season we have never encountered as much rubbish in, on and along the water as we did in our time on Bali this year. Nevertheless, there was a lot of waste, mainly plastic, polluting the shore and we took up the task to clean our house beach and its surroundings completely.

Time has passed and Khan of Blue Planet posted disturbing pictures of heaps of rubbish around the resort asking for ideas of how to deal with all this waste. Cleaning up our little section of the beach in Amed, we were wondering ourselves what are good solutions for small islands or communities to deal with their waste (Keep your plastic and clean up the rest).

Yard of Blue Planet Andamans in India shwoing their white walls build in with glass and plastic bottle. To the left is the kitchen, in the back the entrance and to the right restaurant area with kitchen staff working. Left bottom is a small cat sitting, one donkey looks for food around the gate and another watches the Indian lady.
Looking for solutions for small islands: Glass and plastic are built into the walls of the Tree House (Blue Planet Andamans) in India.

Looking around

First online research brought up policies for small island developing states (SIDS). The report from UN Environment “SIDS waste management outlook” has a summary for decision-makers, but is not useful for any private person, small-scale resort or another type of small business to start some action. But luckily there are international e-mail lists and reaching out to experts around the world brought up some other ideas and initiatives, we’d like to present to you.

Indonesian Waste Platform

First of all, I’d like to thank Nina van Toulon from the Indonesian Waste Platform and International Waste Platform for her help and input as well as facilitating further contacts. For dealing with glass bottles, she suggested a machine to crush glass to sand which then can be used as a building material. They had imported one from New Zealand (Expleco) that can be operated off the grid with a solar panel – a big bonus for remote and low-income regions. One small resort can’t afford to buy this machine, but a whole island community/village together, possibly with outside support might make good use of this solution.

To avoid bottled water the Indonesian Waste Platform has been introducing water filters from NAZAVA together with tumblers in schools. From our own experience actually a lot of places in Indonesia either have a water filter installed or have refill stations based on big bottles. However, not every resort, dive centre or shop is advertising that. Hence, it is always good to ask. Even if they don’t have or offer it yet, the request of many people might change their minds (Ask to refill: Water is life).

Recykal, India

Via Nina, I got in contact with Rajay J. Rasaikar working for Recykal in India which is a digital technology company providing cloud-based solutions for waste management and recycling industry. Sounded very fancy to me and I have problems picturing all this taking place on Long Island. Most likely it will start around the capital of the Andamans, Port Blair, and the tourist hot spot Havelock Island. But we are looking forward to seeing the developments as he wrote:

“We are the only agency working with the Authorities officially to channelise plastic waste in Andaman, and right now we are building unique solutions for ocean Plastics as well. We last quarter started getting material to the mainland via Chennai Port.”

Reef Check Malaysia

Theresa Ng, Programme Development Manager of Reef Check Malaysia, also recommended the above-mentioned glass crusher which they use on Tioman Island:

“The glass bottles become fine sand that we use for construction materials – mixed with cement. We also use the crushed glass and glass bottles for our coral rehabilitation efforts.”

A second project area, Mantanani Island in Malaysia, has a lot of plastic bottles as, due to natural water contamination, all islanders have to purchase bottled drinking water. Here they use a shredder and extruder machine based on a design of the open-source community Precious Plastic. Precious Plastic wants to establish alternative plastic recycling systems around the world by creating different recycling spaces working together as small scale businesses. On Mantanani Island they use the shredded plastic to design fridge magnets that are sold to tourists.

Great solution for small islands: Reef Check Malaysia is turning plastic into new products like magnets to finance more recycling.

The little downside, the machine can only take certain types of plastic (HDPE and PP) and not the widely used PET. Reef Check Malaysia is still sending PET to the mainland for recycling which is cost-intensive. They hope to be able to make enough money from magnets to cross-finance the transport costs.

Break free from plastic and GAIA

I also got more general recommendations to reach out to existing networks and movements which are interesting and important but don’t have an explicit focus on small island solutions like Break free from plastic. However, they do have island communities in their network and, of course, certain strategies, tips and projects are working on islands as well as other communities, e.g. banning plastic bags and prohibit to pack veggies and fruits in additional plastic layers like the island of Siquijor in the Philippines did.

#breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution with 8,000 organisations and members around the world. They unite to

“demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, and work together through a holistic approach in order to bring about systemic change under the #breakfreefromplastic core pillars. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain – from extraction to disposal – focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions.”

We love it: System change and prevention! GAIA looks at the bigger picture too. It is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries.

“With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped.” 

Plastic Collective

Plastic Collective sounded like the perfect match for Long Island or any small island for that matter. Hopefully, they can work something out for the Andamans. So far there are 15 community projects listed on their website.

“We work with communities, who are often forgotten by the rest of the world, as they struggle to hold back the tide of plastic waste engulfing their environment. We provide education programs that encourage plastic to be seen as a valuable recyclable resource and not rubbish. We provide machinery and training to operate a sustainable plastic recycling micro-enterprise. We provide a marketplace for communities to sell their valuable recycled plastic.”

Apart from working with communities, they offer materials and support for individuals to go plastic-free as well as transformative plastic education programs. In the style of carbon offsetting, they designed a program to allow becoming plastic neutral by extracting certain amounts of plastic from our ecosystems.

Togean Conservation Foundation

Another very promising approach was brought to me by the Togean Conservation Foundation based in Central Sulawesi in Indonesia. They have been looking into solutions for waste for their remote archipelago of around 58 islands where no government services for waste exist and are combining various aspects:

“We have been looking into simple and affordable ways to process the waste here on our islands into useful products or into items that can gain an income for the locals. We have devised a strategy (as yet mostly unfunded besides a small pilot) of decentralised wastebanks on each of the major islands, simple plastic processing machines for hard plastics, pyrolosis machines for soft plastics, reuse of waste streams in handicrafts by villagers where we train them and supply tools (mostly flip-flops, plastics and styrofoam), and possibly a glass crusher to make a sand that can be used for cement to avoid some level of sand mining. Aluminium cans will mostly be crushed and sold to recyclers on the mainland but we also want to experiment with making solar cookers and water heaters with them. We hope also to do some ecobricks.”

Looking ahead

Unfortunately, we are not on Long Island. Granted if we were we wouldn’t have internet. Hopefully, Khan can pick up a signal here and there and follow up with the people and projects described. As at the moment it isn’t possible to go to the Andamans at all, we started looking into solutions and projects in our home countries, Germany and the Netherlands, instead.

Recently I learned about the Clean River Project in Germany (thanks to Yvonne Adamek and her Hygge Podcast: Wie viel Müll schwimmt in unseren Flüssen? 2. Juni 2020). In 2012 Stephan Horch started to clean German rivers whilst kayaking. When he started to photograph the most bizarre findings, he gained some publicity, run a successful crowdfunding campaign and kayaked 450 km via the river Rhine to the North Sea. By now it’s a non-profit organisation setting up cleaning events all over Germany and promoting adoptions of river sections. In 2019 the Clean River Project collected 75,000 litres of rubbish.

If I would have a dry suit, I’d offer my help to clean the parts below the water as a 5 mm wetsuit won’t cut it. In any case, no matter what your hobby, work or interest is, it can be linked to making the world a better place. I try to have a bag for rubbish and aeroplane socks serving as gloves with me at all times now. After all, also in Germany and the Netherlands, there is much more rubbish around than we like to admit.

Besides, we are looking at a lesser-known side of the Netherlands: St. Eustatius, Caribbean Netherlands. Since we happily worked there in 2014-2015, we are planning to go back for more. Therefore we are in contact with STENAPA, the organisation managing the national parks on and around this little island. Not only do they organise regular clean-ups and education programmes, but also turn waste into new products, like crushed glass bottles into stepping stones for gardens in the form of a turtle. As in 2018, an innovative approach of waste management for small islands has started, we are looking forward to documenting the developments on the governmental level in cooperation with the private sector too.

See you on the other side!

Rubbish wave: Looking for solutions for small islands

Please, contact us for any other ideas, projects, initiatives or best-practise to tackle the rubbish wave and solutions for small islands.

Two bags standing on our doorstep filled with rubbish collected at the beach which can be partly seen through the open gate. Beach with two boats, blue sea, blue sky with some clouds.
Cleaning up at our doorstep in Bali.

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