President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih used his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York to announce a comprehensive phase-out of single-use plastic items in the Maldives.
Speaking on the need to protect the Maldives’ fragile environment—the backbone of the country’s tourism industry—President Solih said that the most polluting single-use plastic items, such as small water bottles and many single-use plastic bags, would be phased out by 2023.
“We are seeking to completely phase out our usage of single-use plastic by the year 2023. This will be one of the most far-reaching and ambitious plastics phase-out plans of any nation on Earth,” the President told the UN General-Assembly.
Plastic garbage has become a major environmental headache for the Maldives, with plastic bottles and bags washing up on beaches and smothering coral reefs. Moreover, plastic waste is normally openly burned, either in local island bonfires or at Thilafushi, causing a potential health hazard.
The plastic pollution problem threatens the tourism industry, which is reliant on selling the vision of a pristine tropical paradise. Other holiday destinations, such as Bali in Indonesia, who have failed to tackle their plastic waste issues have seen their global image severely damaged—associated with filthy beaches and plastic filled seas. The problem in the Maldives is growing: plastic waste is due to increase by some 60% over the coming decade, based on business-as-usual projections.
In order to tackle the problem, the Government will use a ‘drawdown’ model for reducing plastic waste: implementing a series of ‘smart policies’ aimed at eradicating the most problematic plastics from the country, using policy interventions ranging from outright bans and taxes to new industry standards and guidelines. The policies will be phased-in over time, to ensure minimum disruption to people and business, and making sure alternatives to plastic are readily and cheaply available.
The ‘drawdown’ model is based on sustained engagement with a cross-section of stakeholders, from local communities to industry, in order to gain support for policies and ensure their successful implementation. Specific, time-bound policies targeting particular single-use plastic items will be developed over the next few months after widespread stakeholder engagement and further data modelling work have been completed.
The President’s announcement follows calls from numerous local islands and tourist resorts to ban single-use plastic products. The People’s Majlis also recently passed a motion calling on the Government to ban single-use plastics.