In an attempt to find ways to tackle the problem of plastic waste on islands, Dutch circular plastics enterprise Searious Business teamed up in 2019 with the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN on that organisation’s Plastic Waste Free Island (PWFI) project on six Caribbean and Pacific islands.
Islands are vulnerable to plastic pollution: not only are they battered by the plastic that washes up on their shores, the plastic generated on them must also be dealt with.
The idea behind the PWFI project is to rethink plastic waste management on islands to prevent plastic waste from leaking into the surrounding marine environment.
Until now, the primary focus has been reducing unnecessary plastic, reusing and recycling waste into useable products. However, this approach fails to deal with the all-important category of waste plastics that cannot be easily recycled - at least, not mechanically. These include plastic products such as polyolefin bags and films, LDPE items such as six pack yokes, potato chip packets, HDPE and polystyrene. Alternative methods to convert these back to clean and valuable feedstock must therefore be developed.
Currently, non-recyclable plastics are not currently dealt with by the waste management systems on the islands, and high volumes are piling up, causing severe environmental issues.
However, finding and establishing advanced recycling technologies in these remote areas is a challenge. Searious Business is now undertaking the search for the most suitable technologies for deployment in these island environments.
There are various processes that are able to deal with this kind of waste, including chemical recycling, pyrolysis, depolymerisation and gasification, all of which can transform these polymers back into new material .If all else fails, waste-to-energy processes can be resorted to.
Together with CE Delft, Searious Business will carefully analyse the waste generation; evaluate and identify the most suitable technologies depending on island characteristics.
This analysis will look at a range of different factors impacting these decisions. While price is an obvious one, there also are multiple island-specific parameters to measure, including social, environmental, economic and policy factors. For example, how much of this plastic do we have? Is it worth building on the island itself? Will it create or destroy jobs on the island? What is the environmental impact in terms of energy used and CO2 emissions? Finally, they will benchmark each technology and provide their recommendations based on the results.
The problem is an urgent one, as the UN acknowledged in a 1 June declaration. 74 nations signed the Ocean Day Plastic Pollution Declaration presented by Antigua and Barbuda on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The high-level thematic debate on the ocean and SDG14: Life Below Water was hosted by The President of the UN general assembly and calls for a legally-binding treaty to combat plastic pollution.
The Plastic Waste Free Islands (PWFI) project was started by the IUCN, supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), as part of its global Close the Plastic Tap Programme. The vision is to create a blueprint for Plastic Waste Free Islands so that all solutions can be scaled up and rolled out to other islands across the globe. By utilising the full range of state-of-art technologies available, the flow of plastic into the ocean can be halted, to ensure the future prosperity of these small island nations. Additional partners are welcome.