March 31, 2015
Waste pickers gather at a final disposal site in Baruni, Papua New Guinea.
The Pacific Region is well known for its blue ocean, white sandy beaches and rich coral reefs, and nearly 4,000 islands are scattered throughout the area. However, the beautiful sea and islands are in danger due to problems associated with waste that are the resulting from population concentration in urban areas, rapid lifestyle changes with the modernization, and an influx of a wide variety of goods.
Waste at a disposal site flows over into a river in Fiji.
Although in Pacific island countries the flow of goods and materials tend to be one-way from developed and newly emerging countries, those countries have little capacity to properly handle the collection of the massive amounts of waste produced, the use of technically-advanced and high-cost incinerators, or market-based recycling. The reason is that most islands are small and isolated by the sea, and that human resources on the islands are very limited. Most landfills are open dumping where collected mixed waste it is dumped without proper control, thus generating a terrible smell and methane gas, and often resulting in polluted water flowing into rivers and coast lines. Furthermore, there are concerns for the health risks of people known as “waste pickers,” who go through garbage looking for metal or other marketable valuables, as hazardous waste such as medical waste may be mixed in the waste.
Fukuoka Method training at a disposal site in Samoa using locally available resources such as coconuts.
Japan has been providing assistance to Pacific island countries sharing its past experience. In addition to the promotion of the 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) initiative, Japan’s assistance place an emphasis on establishing a “Sound Material-cycle Society,” in which the consumption of natural resources or energy is reduced to the minimum and recycled repeatedly.
Since 2000, JICA has been providing training and has also constructed the Training and Education Center designed to develop human resources who are able to deal with waste issues together with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), a regional inter-governmental organization based in Samoa of which mandate is to address environmental issues in the Pacific region. Shiro Amano, a JICA’s expert dispatched to SPREP, provided assistance to local people to improve and upgrade a Samoa’s open dump as a sanitary landfill that would reduce the generation of methane gas and leachate. Using the locally available materials such as coconut husks and waste tires, he brought to the Pacific region for the first time the Japanese semi-aerobic system known as the’ “Fukuoka Method,” in which pipes are set up to naturally transport air into the landfill layer to promote decomposition of organic waste with the use of aerobic microorganisms existing in the air. This triggered the diffusion of techniques for improving disposal sites to other Pacific island countries such as Vanuatu, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
JICA also launched a five-year Japanese Technical Cooperation Project for Promotion of Regional Initiative on Solid Waste Management in Pacific Island Countries (J-PRISM) (1) in February 2011 utilizing its past experiences on solid waste management and the network already developed in the Pacific region, in response to requests from 11 Pacific island countries for development of human and institutional capacity for sustainable solid waste management.
J-PRISM aims for the creation of a comprehensive base for solid waste management, including the development of human resources addressing the waste issue, establishment and improvement of institutional/organizational systems, and guidance on ways to raise public awareness through mutual learning for the entire Pacific region including responsible government agencies, private companies, labor unions, school teachers, and local community leaders. The project represents first attempt in the world that aims to solve various waste issues through waste awareness and education, surveys on quantity/quality of waste and the collection, transportation and recycling thereof, and the improvement of final disposal sites both at the regional and national levels.
However, a project covering such a wide area has its own challenges. For example, it is hard to control balance between assistance content and the capacity of counterparts (2) because physical access from one country to another in the region is quite limited and each country has a different situation in terms of the development of legal systems and the educational level. The project encourages the counterparts and their organizations from the target countries to acquire skills and knowledge to respond to the waste issue, therefore JICA experts are expected to work as a coach from the background as much as possible. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, practical on-the-job training and formal workshops provided over the past three years enabled a counterpart to design a landfill using the Fukuoka Method by himself. Based on his design they are currently working on upgrading the Baruni dump site, the biggest open dump in the Pacific region. Amano, the project leader, explains that any activity in the project simply provides counterparts and their organizations with an opportunity to strengthen their capacities. The general improvement of solid waste management is possible only through building human networking and organization. It is the local people who bring about changes and improvements in solid waste management as a result of their increased capacities at individual and organizational levels.
A flood hit the Solomon Islands and a massive amount of plastic bottles and debris accumulated in the coastal area of Honiara in April 2014.
Meanwhile, it has been the great concern for the Pacific islands about effects of unusual weather conditions, such as floods, draughts, high tide, and the rising of the sea level that are possibly caused by climate change. JICA has offered various assistance in alleviating damage from such natural disasters by utilizing its own experiences and lessons learned in the area of disaster prevention.
For example, the 2009 Samoa earthquake and subsequent tsunami took a heavy toll on lives and property, producing a massive amount of debris and disaster waste. The post disaster waste left untouched could have had an adverse impact on the hygienic environment in the affected area and stalled reconstruction efforts. Then, JICA, responding to provide emergency assistance, discussed options with the Samoan government and consequently implemented a pilot project for disaster waste clean-up with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Additionally, Samoa and Fiji were experienced flooding in 2012, a cyclone hit Fiji in 2013, and the Solomon Islands suffered flooding in 2014. Such disasters caused severe damage to the properties and affected many people. J-PRISM dispatched Faafetai Sagapolutele, a Samoan specialist who engaged in the 2009 pilot project and currently serves as a J-PRISM Assistant Chief Adviser, and other counterparts who have experience in responding to disaster waste, to the disaster affected areas to implement disaster waste clean-up initiatives. They led local projects and cultivated confidence of the respective countries through helping greatly with the disaster recovery efforts and waste treatment in neighboring countries. J-PRISM is currently preparing guidelines for disaster waste prevention and management based on the experiences of these countries.
Separated cardboard for recycle in Shibushi city
Large cities and local governments of Japan have accumulated a wide variety of techniques, know-how, and citizens’ experiences associated with the waste minimization and separate collection of waste. Local governments, companies, universities, NGOs and civic groups in Japan have collaborated with the solid waste management projects in Pacific island countries.
For instance, the Okinawa Citizens Recycling Movement, a civic group in Okinawa prefecture, provided assistance drawing on their experience in fostering recycling movement at the grassroots level. Specifically, through instruction and practical trainings in Okinawa on the commercialization of recyclable resources, they shared the technology for initial treatment of collected recyclable items so that clean and refined resources could be sold to overseas countries at more favorable conditions with the emphasis on the importance of cooperation between citizens, governments, and companies. Another example is that Shibushi city in Kagoshima prefecture abandoned their incinerator in 1998 and successfully reduced the amount of waste disposal at the landfill by more than 80% in 2005 compared to that of 1998. This was achieved by a thorough waste separation system and cooperation between citizens and the local government. This ‘Shibushi Model’ has been extended to the Pacific island countries since 2011. Junichi Nishikawa, director of the Citizen Environment Division and Environment Policy at the Shibushi City Hall, says confidently, “Solid waste management requires the cooperation of local residents. As they say, ‘Mixture generates waste, separation generates resources.’ You can make a drastic change if the residents strictly separate waste at source before discharge it”.
Amano presents the ‘3R+Return’ concept at the SIDS International Conference.
The third International Conference on SIDS was held in Apia, the capital city of Samoa, from Sep. 1 to 4, 2014. The prime ministers and cabinet officials from nearly 40 countries, as well as over 3,500 people affiliated with international organizations and citizen groups, attended the conference. They discussed the challenges faced by small islands and policies for international cooperation, not only in the Pacific but including other region.
On Sep. 3, JICA and other collaboration partners organized a side event at the SPREP main office and made presentation on the accomplishments and outlook of the project where a number of J-PRISM counterparts attended. Especially stressed was the J-PRISM’s focus on the 3R initiative, as well as the “Return” policy. Importance of “Return” indicates returning organic waste, such as food waste, to nature and returning hazardous waste that cannot be handled on the islands and returning recyclable items and difficult waste that are salable only on the recycling market outside the islands. This policy has gained favorable responses from people from UN organizations and representatives of various countries. Since there are very few recycling industries in the Pacific island countries, it is difficult for them to maintain a resource circulation cycle domestically. J-PRISM is striving for spreading the “3R + Return“ initiative as a Pacific-version of the 3R initiative, while promoting economic instruments that have already been introduced to some countries. For instance, the “container deposit-refund system,” in which a deposit is collected from an importer upon import of goods and is then used as recycling incentive and transportation fees in returning goods to outside the island.
Faafetai acts as an instructor at a disposal site.
The Pacific island countries alone cannot carry out the return of recyclable resources or hazardous waste to outside the island because of various constraints. In order to realize the “3R + Return” initiative, mechanism and institutional systems must be developed where responsibility is shared among wider stakeholders such as recycling industries, manufacturing, distribution, and sales companies, and the governments of developed countries, including Japan.
At the same time, countries in the region are actively sharing their knowledge and techniques regarding methods of various surveys on waste and the improvement of disposal sites within the region. In the future, a database that stores records of local trainers and instructors needs to be developed and a sustainable system to develop and utilize human resources involved in solid waste management within the region must be established through cooperation among national and local governments across the region.
Faafetai, who learned solid waste management from Amano and now leads the J-PRISM project as the Assistant Chief Advisor says, “There was hardly any information available on waste in almost all countries in the past. However, almost all J-PRISM countries now have updated waste data and the people responsible for solid waste management can conduct surveys and collect the latest information on their own. We would like to keep learning through the J-PRISM project or other efforts for our own development and make drastic changes in the garbage situation of the Pacific Island Countries.”
1. 11 countries (Kiribati, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia) plus the Cook Islands, Nauru and Niue.
2. The partner country’s public officials or technical experts to whom technique is transferred.