FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Trashing & Treasure

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Trashing & Treasure

FHTA, 30 March 2023 – Part 2 of last week’s look at how we’re letting trash destroy our treasure – Fiji.

As a small island nation in the Pacific, the Fijian economy having snapped back into “normal”, does so with a heavy continued reliance on tourism.

With Fiji now more focused on increasing the current tourism footprint, there is a growing understanding of the need to do so in a more environmentally and socially supportive way that would in turn preserve a sustainable legacy that future generations can be proud of.

Easier said than done, with the usual practice for years being on increasing visitor numbers and the subsequent revenue streams that are expected to always follow higher numbers.

There is a wider awareness of existing infrastructure needing replacement or support, of the risks of over-tourism in environmentally sensitive areas or where increased strains on ageing infrastructure can exacerbate risks and our latent vulnerability to climate change.

In 2022, Fiji usually the leader in such matters eventually joined 13 other Pacific countries in signing a new policy document aimed at promoting sustainable tourism in the region. While better late than never, the action was applauded as “The Pacific Sustainable Tourism Policy Framework” -a policy encouraging authorities to support tourism operators in protecting marine and coastal ecosystems, reducing energy, water, and plastics use, and providing guidelines for appropriate behaviour at cultural sites.

The Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) has been actively pursuing the recognition of sustainability in tourism at a national level to promote the ramping up of initiatives to increase awareness, highlight the urgency of climate change mitigation and gain widespread momentum for more aggressively addressing supportive mechanisms that were trickling through far too slowly.

With an economy so highly dependent on tourism; the benefits through multiplier effects of boosting economic growth, increased employment and supply chain linkages that trickle further into local communities, make this dependence riskier when natural disasters form our most consistent challenges.

Small Pacific countries like Fiji, are increasingly working with tourism operators to develop sustainable practices rather than introducing regulations and certification systems that can be difficult for small operators to comply with. However, experts note that the push for sustainable tourism may face growing challenges as tourism bounces back and commercial pressures increase. Despite these challenges, Fiji remains reasonably committed to promoting sustainable tourism as a way to protect its natural resources and ensure the well-being of its communities.

Reasonable, because we have yet to see how these commitments will translate into future investment criteria, supportive policies and regulatory demands that can ignore the pressure for larger projects that might suck up already limited power, water and waste management outputs, in favour of less demanding developments that might be able to be more self-sufficient, as well as less destructive on the environment in their infrastructure requirements.

In last week’s article, we discussed how recycling efforts have become operational necessities for many operators in tourism, often (but not always) saving money in the long term and preserving the environment our visitors have travelled far to enjoy while enhancing the country’s clean beaches and pristine environments image.

However, the reality is that despite these efforts, waste and rubbish continue to pose a significant challenge to our environment with longer-term mitigative options significantly more costly to initiate.

Beach cleaning initiatives are a common sight in Fiji, with locals and volunteers regularly dedicating their time to collecting rubbish that washes up on the shores as regularly as the tides.
This problem is not unique to Fiji; plastic waste and pollution have become global concerns. Apart from a distinct lack of care about handling our rubbish; for the larger proportion of the population, regular, formal waste collections simply do not exist. A fact that escapes many of us who live in urban centres where waste collections are regular features tied to town and city rates that are paid to local municipal councils.

Left to their own devices for waste disposal therefore, our most significant contribution to waste pollution in Fiji is domestic littering, with people tossing rubbish onto streets from cars and buses, left on beaches, and tossed out of sight into creeks, waterways and rivers that eventually find their way out into the ocean. Even formal collection services by private collection agents are not guaranteed to actually end up in separate recycling venues.

This behaviour is often the result of a lack of awareness and education about the impacts of littering on the environment and the community, with negligible fines in place to penalize consistently bad behaviour.

Recycling, therefore, is some way away for Fiji, requiring a national approach to creating awareness on waste disposal generally, providing consistent collection services that need to be paid for and where waste is wisely disposed of; and then creating further awareness of recycling into specific, but provided receptacles that are easily recognizable and part of a country-wide effort to sincerely address a growing issue.

Private sector support has often included the provision of bins with advertising space offered. But after a while, the collections cease, the bins overflow and the eyesores continue till someone takes up the responsibility again.

Changing behaviours to influence how we sort our waste, dispose of it and take a keen interest in what happens to it at the end, will better prepare our future climate warriors with the right tools to start their climate change journeys.

Like all journeys, taking care of the planet starts with our immediate environment, before we can move on to include protecting our mangroves, our forests and our oceans.
There have been globally recognized and successfully implemented incentive-based recycling programs, encouraging citizens to recycle by offering rewards or incentives on products and services.

Many countries incentivize the collection of bottles and cans and the use of colour coded bins for households in urban areas allows the separation of waste to reduce landfill.

Alongside incentives, educational initiatives are critical in changing behaviour and raising awareness about the importance of recycling and waste management. This has proved successful along the Coral Coast with support from resorts providing large sacks to separate rubbish and collecting these regularly.

Moreover, there is an opportunity to create economic value from waste. Recycling and repurposing waste products can create new revenue streams and employment opportunities if communities are interested to learn.

For instance, plastic waste can be transformed into products such as furniture, paving stones, and building materials as recent, local experiments have shown.

The potential of turning waste into a valuable resource is not just limited to Fiji but is a global trend. Known as the circular economy, it emphasizes reusing and repurposing materials to minimize waste and create economic value instead.

Whether it’s adopting a circular economic model, private sector support of waste collection initiatives, creating awareness at the primary school level, or incentivizing behaviour through buy-back schemes; we need to tackle this more seriously at a national level.

We consistently acknowledge that the industry’s success is dependent on the preservation of Fiji’s unique natural environment and cultural heritage. It is no coincidence that many Fijian resorts are beautifully appointed, with clean landscaped gardens and miles of pristine beaches that are freshly raked each morning.

There are numerous collection, recycling and repurposing efforts taking place in the background that create those effects. Constant and never stopping.

To this end, FHTA strongly advocates for sustainable tourism practices that promote responsible tourism and minimizes the negative impacts on the environment and local communities. But this needs everyone to be practising it and not the generally accepted community program initiative to collect rubbish as some sort of penance for not doing more during the year to contribute more effectively to the issue, which allows them to tick the CSR box off for that quarter.

How are we changing our colleagues’ and employees’ behaviours regarding waste disposal? Are we doing enough in our homes, our offices, during sports, in schools and while out for a drive?

How are we influencing the behaviour of our younger family members with our own actions and in the workplace, and are we ensuring our work practices in managing waste are being encouraged when our staff go home?

A much stronger commitment to keeping Fiji clean is needed.

There is no “Plan B” for when the oceans are too filled with rubbish to sustain life as we know it.

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 30 March 2023)