FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Urgency of National Waste Management

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: The Urgency of National Waste Management

Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, 18 April 2024 – We have a national issue that will only get worse unless something substantial is done: the main one being that we do not have enough avenues to collect and dispose of our waste – mostly household rubbish, effectively.

In our article last week, we raised the issue of civic pride (or lack thereof) due to the rising piles of rubbish in and around our beautiful islands.

This week let’s talk about how the critical need for a waste management system for 100% of our population, and along with it – because these things must happen in tandem; the need for raising awareness, incentivizing and educating people to separate waste and dispose of it properly.

Why separate? In the same way that our grandparents did – it allows kitchen waste like fruit and vegetable peelings to be composted into back-yard composts (that can eventually be used for gardening and raising great quality, healthy vegetables) and separating glass, paper and plastic into reusable or recycled efforts for community, corporate, school and civic programs.

The leftover waste would be reduced drastically and help to decrease the chances of flyway waste (uncovered rubbish trucks, dogs and careless tossing), and reduce landfill.

Even though our beautiful beaches and forests attract lots of locals and international visitors; the reality is that we are struggling with garbage and keeping it all out of the water and out of harm’s way for our marine life, as well as off the beaches and safer for people using them.

How can we not be the only ones seeing rubbish piled up on the sides of main roads and residential streets, outside homes that people occupy and walk in and out of daily, in drains and streams and rivers, falling out of already full bins provided at bus stops and around shopping areas and markets, around many villages and built up communities?

Rubbish is everywhere. So much so, that we have stopped “seeing” it.

The problem affects everyone in Fiji, from locals to tourists, and harms the delicate balance of nature that makes Fiji so special.

Trash, especially plastic, is everywhere, causing pollution and hurting the environment and ecosystems in our oceans and on land.

Improperly handled trash can spread diseases, make water dirty, and attract pests that carry more diseases. But this information is not new and most children in the early years of Primary School can tell you this.

What is clear is the increasing amounts of rubbish being created, that is not able to be handled by the inadequate and poorly funded waste collection programs budgeted for by municipal councils. And there certainly aren’t enough waste disposal sites, waste collection and separation systems.

In short – our current waste output has exponentially outgrown our ability to collect and dispose of it.

How this has happened in a country where we claim that the majority of our people are poor does not make sense, given that the vast majority of rubbish is made up of food wrappers and containers from take-away food outlets, plastic drink bottles and diapers.

Worse still, we appear to have forgotten about the burgeoning bulge of housing clusters – formal or informal depending on how urgent demand has gotten, and catering for services for these areas as part of holistic population support.

Power, water, sewer connections, roads, lighting, connections to bus services and access to health care services and shops – all of these must include waste collection services. But often waste is left to expanding communities to sort out for themselves.

And suppose we can barely get the formally recognised homes within town boundaries to pay their rates so that these services can be improved and provided more efficiently.

In that case, we should expect that informal housing areas that become recognised communities are going to be harder still to convince to part with rates that will look after their interests.

How can they trust the authorities to dispose of their waste at a cost, when they struggle to get water or power on any other day?

It costs a lot to move the garbage to proper disposal spots from informal and rural areas that don’t have regular garbage pickup, which leads to a buildup of trash that’s not handled correctly.

So, the problem becomes a shared one that perpetuates the thinking that we can continue to toss rubbish out without a care, because somebody, group or organisation will be compelled to pick it up at some stage.

And because waste can leak chemicals into the soil, water, and air, which can be poisonous for our plants, animals, marine life and people; many groups and organisations and civic-minded people DO make it a point to collect and do what little they can to reduce the problem. At least a little.

What can we do?

The tourism industry has felt compelled to do what it can for many years and efforts are being ramped up to meet the increasing challenge by creating awareness and an about-to-be-launched program, to create more pride in our country’s environment and keeping our surroundings beautiful.

You might say – well that’s your job and this benefits your purposes for showcasing Fiji.

My Tau – tourism’s positive impact benefits Fiji’s entire economy and pretending it does not somehow benefit you is simply keeping your head in the sand, which hopefully does not have some broken shards of glass embedded in it somewhere.

Perhaps this needs us to look at how first-world countries have managed to rein in similar issues and learn from these models.

We know that Government needs funding in this area because much of its current spending is going into fixing substandard roads or ancient water pipes so we might need to go hat-in-hand to development partners to ask for their assistance. If we have not already.

The Department of Waterways & Environment plays a crucial role in waste and pollution control, regulating waste discharges, developing national strategies, and managing landfill sites like the Naboro Landfill.

What it is doing about other less carefully managed sites like Vunato in Lautoka for example though is less clear.

However, there’s a clear need for broader collaboration and concerted efforts to address waste management challenges comprehensively.

The 3Rs program (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) promoted by the Ministry is a step in the right direction, focusing on waste minimization at the household level, but we’re not sure exactly how effective this has been given their current limitations on funding.

Proper implementation of the 3Rs program can significantly improve solid waste management, reduce collection and disposal costs, and promote economic activity through recycling. But we believe this must be done at a national level that also includes creating critically needed awareness and education as a first step.

Furthermore, initiatives like the plastic permit requirement for importers highlight the importance of controlling plastic waste, a major environmental concern globally. So long as these initiatives are recognised as playing a smaller role, and not the only significant way to manage plastic pollution.

Again, we say – education and awareness first, before moving into more comprehensively complicated areas because the buy-in needs to be created for our entire population.

Fiji can preserve its natural beauty, support its communities, and attract more visitors who care about sustainability and how countries manage this as part of their own support efforts. We can take care of most of this in the areas we work and live in, but we need everyone else to step up and do their bit.

And that means we ALL do our best to keep Fiji cleaner.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 18 April 2024)