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Race for Water: Meet the local Fijian players

by Race For Water 30 Jan 2019 03:07 UTC
Waste in Suva, Fiji © Race For Water

While the boat remained sheltered in Nadi, in the West of the main island of Viti Levu, part of the team travelled to the Fiji capital city of Suva, with the aim of visiting a landfill, meeting waste management stakeholders, giving a lecture at the University of the South Pacific and meeting with the Secretary of State for Fisheries.

Annabelle Boudinot, second captain tells the story:

Our first meeting was with a company specialised in water bottling called Aquasafe / Vai Wai. We really encourage the use of reusable water bottles, so it was the first time we met with a bottle manufacturer. However, Warwick Pleass, who owns the company is very environmentally aware, so we were keen to meet. The company manufactures several products, ranging from water fountains, PET plastic bottles to biodegradable PET bottles. We are most interested in the latter of these products, which is labelled under a New Zealand organisation.

The biodegradable bottle decomposes the quickest in a humid environment and the enzymes help to eventually break it down into water, oxygen and humus. While we did not have access to results to see the actual effectiveness of the product at this this stage, the figures provided online demonstrate that the bottle biodegraded by 17% after 9 months in the laboratory. We still however have a lot of questions on how this product breaks down in the ocean or in a landfill...

This however is a great solution for water fountains; most water in Fiji is safe for drinking, but is sometimes heavily chlorinated and, in the case of floods, may no longer be suitable for drinking. The water fountain ensures that safe drinking water can be made available quickly and limits the use of packaging (one single package for 15L of water), plus it can be reused 40 times. Bottles are returned via a deposit return scheme and are then sent to Australia where PET can be recycled.

Our next visit took us to a landfill at a waste management station. Whilst it is well organized and relatively clean, it is still like it always is, heart breaking to see birds, flies and wildlife fly over these vast heaps of rubbish. The pit in front of us was vast...and yet, in just a year, it will be full... The split overflowing bags of rubbish revealed aluminium cans, PET bottles, vegetable peels and other compostable waste... As Paul Thomson Evers, the waste dump manager explains: "With a good sorting solution, we could reduce the volume of waste by 50%."

On Tuesday morning we met Fijian scientist, Andrew Paris at the University of the South Pacific campus, where students and the Dean of the university listened attentively to our presentation. We highlighted the scientific studies focusing in on the Pacific, the plastisphere project, the Universidad Católica del Norte (in Chile) campaign, as well as the campaign led by Andrew Paris between Tonga and Fiji. The last part of the presentation was dedicated to 'Act' and the plastic project called Waste to Energy; there were a number of questions about the machine, how it works, and the impact it can have.

Following the conference, we met with Secretary of State for Fisheries, Craig Strong, who welcomed us and shared his feelings on the beach clean-up: "The beach clean in Wailoaloa really made me aware of the extent of the problem. During the clean we saw all sorts of packaging, leftovers of picnics, used diapers, and waste that appeared to have been abandoned by locals. So, there is a huge amount of work to do and I would like to work with the Minister of Education to intervene in schools and make new generations aware of the importance of the problem."

We concluded that there is a need to set up a dedicated infrastructure such as bins along the beach and a regular collection so that waste does not pile up. The waste problem requires a joint effort on all levels. We then presented the plastic project Waste to Energy.

Our meeting quickly came to an end and Craig Strong promised to see us again soon. We pointed out some of the key players that would help to understand the local issues. The Ministry is keen to launch a working group to tackle the matter jointly with the Foundation.

Now we have put across our message, we hope this collaboration will continue! As the Department of Fisheries say, "Our fish. Our water. Our future".

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