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Vanuatu hosted its inaugural National Solid Waste Summit yesterday to address strategies for effective solid waste management, aiming to preserve a clean and healthy environment.

The Minister of Climate Change Adaptation, Ralph Regenvanu, mentioned the summit marks the Government’s first-ever initiative in organising such an event focused on solid waste. He said the summit is an inclusive platform, welcoming stakeholders and interested parties engaged in solid waste management.

Regenvanu said the main objective of this gathering was to discuss waste separation, explore potential revenue streams from waste, and strategise on governmental support through legislation and taxes. The aim is to establish a viable industry focused on waste management, facilitating the reduction of environmental waste.

He said when referring to solid waste, it relates not to air or water pollution, such as sewage, but predominantly concerns the proper disposal of refuse placed inside yellow plastic bags.

“We convened this summit with the goal of uniting everyone because solid waste has emerged as a significant issue in Vanuatu. Observing people indiscriminately discarding items such as plastics and iron, we recognised the widespread environmental pollution,” Regenvanu explained.

The idea was prompted by the common practice of mixing various types of waste in a single plastic bag. Upon reaching the dump site, this mixed waste occupies considerable space, degrades quickly, and contributes to the inefficiency of waste disposal as much of it remains unseparated.

“Much of the waste sent to Etas consists of items that can naturally decompose, such as leaves and kava. These organic wastes could be repurposed for compost, enriching the soil. However, we continue to dispatch them to Etas, constituting the majority of our waste,” said Minister Regenvanu.

He said a fundamental shift in mindset is necessary in Vanuatu. People need to embrace the practice of separating various solid wastes, demonstrating a change in attitudes from the current habit of disposing of everything in a single location.

There are five primary categories of solid waste that people should be aware of, each requiring different handling methods.

Minister Regenvanu explained that for materials like iron, tin, and aluminum, RecycleCorp plays an important role. They collect all metal waste, compress it, and then export it to Australia, ensuring that various metal wastes do not accumulate in Vanuatu.

This approach extends to glass and bottles as well. RecycleCorp has the capability to grind them, and the resulting material can be utilised in cement production as an alternative to coral and sand.

This approach eliminates the presence of glass, preventing it from being an environmental hazard. Additionally, it discourages the extraction of sand and coral from the sea, as such activities contribute to the adverse effects of climate change in coastal areas.

Minister Regenvanu said RecycleCorp is also actively involved in handling plastics as well. They collect and pack plastics into containers for export overseas.

Regenvanu revealed that compostable materials, such as leaves and tree branches, are being actively managed by the government. A designated land at the Seaside Market in Port Vila has been allocated for the collection of all organic waste.

In a positive development this year, the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation (DoEPC) has invested in a facility to process these organic wastes. This initiative aims to create valuable products such as fertilizer and compost, which can be used to develop backyard gardens and promote sustainable practices.

“We have the capability to manage waste, but we need to shift in our attitudes toward waste separation. This is why we are here—to encourage everyone to embrace the concept of waste separation and recognise the potential for generating income from solid waste,” the minister said.

“We plan to implement initiatives such as a container deposit scheme, where every item we purchase, particularly beverages like wine, beer, fruit juice, and water, will involve a bottle that we must ensure is reused. Upon returning these bottles, individuals will receive a VT10 refund, similar to the practice employed by companies like Tusker.

“A new waste industry is emerging in Vanuatu, and during this meeting, we witnessed noteworthy enthusiasm from many committed youths. This initiative holds the potential to generate income in various communities, providing financial opportunities for young people and creating employment.”

Currently, recycling is feasible on Efate and Santo as Recycle Corp operates on these two islands.

However, the government plans to establish a Waste Separation App in all provincial centres this year, collaborating with provincial governments. The aim is to create a system that generates revenue, encouraging everyone in Vanuatu to have the incentive to earn money by properly disposing of their waste.

Minister Regenvanu added the objective of this awareness campaign is to urge all individuals involved in waste management—be it Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), community groups, government departments, or private sector entities—to actively promote waste separation.

The goal is to encourage people to adopt this practice, highlighting the potential economic benefits.

While efforts to raise awareness about waste have been ongoing for some time through the DoEPC and NGOs like Wan Smol Bag, there remains a need for additional awareness initiatives.