Fiji: tourism, coconuts and plastic pollution

In the heart of the Fiji archipelago, renowned for its 333 islands and 550 paradise-like islets lined with palm trees and luxury resorts, lies a completely different reality: that of waste management.

To better understand what goes on behind the scenes, the Plastic Odyssey team put on their explorer’s boots and visited the Fijian hinterland, immersing them in contrasting scenery.

Plastic bottles collected per ton

In Lautoka, Fiji’s second-largest city, the open-air landfill coexists with a village of waste collectors. The small tin cottages are home to more than 200 residents who come from all over the country to collect the plastic that earns them a few pennies.

Of these, only Coca-Cola and Fiji Water bottles are recycled. Thanks to the Mission Pacific Fiji association, informal collectors earn 5 cents per bottle returned to the factory. Caps and other plastics that could be recycled accumulate and clog up the already saturated landfill.

Difficult work

Among the collectors, elderly women like Asinate, with over 35 years’ experience in the industry, work in difficult conditions, sorting waste amidst mountains of soiled garbage.

Faced with this complex and long-established reality, the Pacific Recycling Foundation (PRF) and Waste Recyclers Fiji Limited (WRFL) are trying to find solutions to improve the living conditions of informal workers.

A privileged encounter

PRF founder Amitesh Deo and his team made the trip from the capital to Marina Denarau to meet the Plastic Odyssey. The Foundation’s mission is to defend and support the interests and rights of collectors involved in the collection of recyclable materials, and to raise public awareness of sorting and recycling.

During the discussions, Amitesh insisted on one very important point in their approach: not to further harm local communities and the environment when implementing a new project or model.

That’s why the projects implemented in the region at the moment are mainly awareness-raising and sorting projects. In particular, the foundation offers the “Recycle on the go” initiative, aimed at training environmental ambassadors, while focusing on marginalized groups such as women and the LGBTQ+ community. The Recycle-Hub is also a pilot project to install sorting garbage cans throughout Fiji, where the act of sorting is little applied by the population.

Workshops on board Plastic Odyssey

Plastic Odyssey’s stopover in Fiji also brought together various stakeholders, from tourism to municipalities, united in the fight against plastic pollution. This moment allowed us to discover that some hotel groups, such as Tanoa Hotels, have already set up sorting initiatives to collect recyclable plastic and entrust it to Waste Recyclers Fiji Limited, but this still only concerns PET bottles from the above-mentioned brands. As for Tourism Fiji, they create awareness campaigns and agreements with cruise ships to recover the waste generated by tourists.

Major challenges ahead

Despite this collective will, much remains to be done, as only a tiny fraction of plastic waste is exported to be recycled abroad, as there are currently no recycling plants on the islands. In addition, Fiji is faced with the weight of multinationals influencing local policies, sometimes making it difficult to implement change.

A few statistics underline the scale of the challenge: a tourist generates seven times more waste than a Fijian, while the famous Fiji Water company, one of the country’s main sources of exports, imports its bottles from China – a real environmental irony.

Fiji’s ecosystem reveals a stark contrast between its reputation as a honeymoon destination for tourists and the real-life challenges faced by its inhabitants. However, with the involvement of the tourism sector, private companies, municipalities and local associations, a promising union could be on the horizon. Not least thanks to a shared determination to establish a sustainable recycling model, supported by the commitment of numerous local and international players.

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