Exotic islands are drowning in waste


Waste is an ever-increasing problem in popular destinations like the Seychelles, Mauritius and the Marshall Islands following economic growth and increased tourism. COWI is advising the development of solutions that could point the way to sustainable management of waste in these exotic but vulnerable island communities, which are struggling with a lack of basic infrastructure, resources and space.

Plastic floating onto the beach, pollution of the local environment and reduced biodiversity. That's just some of the consequences for a long list of the world’s island nations, which do not have the necessary capacity to handle the waste that is increasingly affecting life on the islands.

Some causes of the problem are greater prosperity and the growth in tourism, and the trend is global, explains Torben Kristiansen, Vice President for Waste & Contaminated Sites at COWI.

As a world leader in waste management, COWI has advised several of the world’s island nations and has just started to develop a master plan for the Seychelles. Here, the quantity of waste has more than doubled in the last decade, so the island group now generates 80,000 tonnes of waste per year.

“A group of islands like the Seychelles has the same consumption pattern as the rest of the world while they are also challenged by their limited possibilities for disposing waste in a responsible way. In plain language; you can get a coke, a smartphone or a Bluetooth loudspeaker anywhere – you just can’t get rid of it again,” says Torben Kristiansen.

Waste types such as electronics, chemicals and composite materials require special treatment, and this is a big issue for the Seychelles and other island nations where the costs of recycling materials and environmentally hazardous substances are extra high because they need separate collection, storage and transport by ship to, for example, Europe or China.

Instead, the waste ends up on traditional dumps – also called landfill sites – without any protective membranes because of the high costs and limited access to capacity and expertise. The result is toxic plastics floating out into the surrounding sea and rivers.

The Seychelles and other island nations also face a shortage of space. There are not many suitable areas to place waste management sites, and to make room for new facilities they must give up valuable land that could otherwise be used for tourism, agriculture or urban development. At the same time, the island group is under pressure from rising sea levels caused by climate change.

“Our job is to draw up a master plan based on local conditions and priorities. The aim is to make a proposal, which incorporates waste management into the existing institutional set-up, and contributes to a better society from an economic, social and environmental perspective,” says Kristiansen.

Facts about the global waste problem

  • The quantity of waste is projected to increase by 70% by 2050, from 2.01 billion tonnes today to 3.4 billion tonnes, due to population growth, economic growth and urbanisation.
  • Although the world’s high-income countries only make up 16% of the world's population, they produce more than a third of the world’s waste.
  • As more and more people in the world live better lives and consume more, we will only produce more waste. This is particularly true in Asia and Africa, where the quantity of waste is set to double and even triple by 2050.
  • At least a third of the world’s waste is currently mismanaged and ends up on open dumps or gets incinerated in the open air. Based on the amount of waste, and the way it is treated, it is estimated that waste today accounts for 5% of the world’s CO₂ emissions.
  • Responsible waste management relates directly to several of the UN’s sustainable development goals, including sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12), cleaner oceans (SDG 14), and more healthy ecosystems and richer biodiversity (SDG 15).

Get in contact

Andrik Mols
Leading Project Manager
Waste and Contaminated Sites, Denmark

Tel: +45 4176 0067