Everyone has seen the postcard perfect pictures of palm-fringed beaches in the Maldives. What is less well known is how hard staff at the islands’ resorts have to work to keep the sands looking pristine when confronted by a daily onslaught of ocean-carried plastic.
The Maldives produces an estimate 500 tonnes of rubbish per day, with vast amounts of water-borne waste from other countries carried in daily on the Indian Ocean currents. The islands’ sole waste-processing plant on the reclaimed island of Thilafushi – itself built partly from rubbish – is stretched to capacity, and the islands’ beaches, people and wildlife are struggling to deal with the influx of floating plastic bottles, bags and junk.
On 7 June, the Maldivian government announced an ambitious plan to fight back against the floating menace, working with the islands’ 1200 pole-and-line, handline and longline fishing boats. Fishermen will sweep plastic rubbish from the sea while they fish, shipping the rubbish back to the capital, Malé, where it will be transferred to long-distance ships for recycling into plastic-based fabrics.
Working with sportswear giant Adidas, the government has already transformed 5 million plastic bottles into flip flops, running shoes, and sports clothing, including shirts for the Spanish football club Real Madrid.
This is just one of several steps the government has taken to reduce the flotillas of plastic blighting Maldivian beaches. School children across the islands have been mobilised into rubbish collection squads, and in 2015, a 400% tax was imposed on imported plastic bags. Since then, the islands of Bodufolhudhoo, Maalhos, Ukulhas and Keyodhoo have gone plastic bag free, and there are hopes the move will be copied by the rest of the archipelago.