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Island nations tackle waste management amid growing strain from tourism

Island nations are getting behind a $450 million initiative that aims to tackle chemical and waste management, with a focus on Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean states.

A statement from the UN Environment explained that waste management is an issue of increasing importance for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) globally, as surging amounts of imported goods put pressure on the limited capacity of SIDS to safely manage and dispose of toxic and polluting substances.

For this reason, representatives of nine Caribbean nations are gathering to launch the Implementing Sustainable Low and Non-Chemical Development in Small Island Developing States programme in Port of Spain.

As of 2019, SIDS produced an average of 2.3 kg of waste per person per day – 48 per cent higher than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average – much of it from the burgeoning tourism sector, the UN Environment statement explained.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Saint Lucia’s Minister for Sustainable Development, Dr Gale Rigobert, emphasised the need for SIDS-appropriate sustainable technologies for waste treatment.

“Saint Lucia, like many SIDS, is heavily reliant on its tourism sector for social and economic prosperity. However, if we continue business as usual with respect to our waste management and disposal practices, we are poised to suffer economic losses to the tune of $28m per year due to damages stemming from the accumulation of toxic substances and wastes in our environment,” Rigobert said.

Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, Rolph Payet, said the initiative came at an opportune time, with the world increasingly focusing on illegal traffic in waste and the accumulation of plastic, particularly in the oceans.

“The waste challenges facing SIDS are unique due to their remoteness, scarcity of land and access to appropriate technology, and the challenges resulting from economies of scale for waste management, including recycling,” Payet said.

Because of their low economic growth, high density and significant environmental vulnerabilities, many countries in the Caribbean lack the capacity to sustainably manage increasing waste production.

The programme aims to implement a combination of regional and national solutions, including an aim to eliminate more than 9,000 metric tons of contaminated material and more than 150,000 metric tons of marine litter from the Caribbean region.

The five-year programme will bring together governments and other stakeholders from across the region to develop and implement regional legislation on chemicals and waste management, including the elimination of persistent organic pollutants, highly hazardous pesticides, and the sound management of e-waste and end-of-life vehicles.

It will also improve control on the import of products and support the design of sanitary engineered landfills and sustainable food production systems.

As a result, the project will prevent future build-up of chemicals in the Caribbean environment, ensure the safe management and disposal of chemicals and promote sustainable consumption through circular economy approaches.