Waste management legislation in Pacific region countries – insights and opportunities

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A comprehensive legal review aims to identify opportunities to further develop and strengthen waste management law and policy in 15 Pacific region countries. It also hopes to reduce environmental, health and economic risks due to poor waste management.


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In 2018, Vanuatu banned single-use plastic bags, drinking straws and styrofoam food containers. While effective, the ban has faced some challenges in practice. For example, defining what counts as a ‘single-use’ plastic bag.

Kiribati has had a successful container deposit scheme in place for nearly two decades. But capacity constraints have made implementation difficult. For example, limited space on the island for recycling storage and locating suitable export markets.

Samoa has a water treatment plant that only treats wastewater from commercial organisations. The country’s Planning and Urban Management Agency is investigating delivering treated water to residential customers. This work could be funded under the Green Climate Fund.

These are some of the insights identified by a review of waste management in 14 Pacific region countries and Timor-Leste. The work was led by Professor Jacqueline Peel and Professor Lee Godden from Melbourne Law School. It was commissioned as part of the PacWastePlus Waste Legislative Review project for the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

SPREP has released 15 country reports that identify existing waste laws and those in the pipeline. The final SPREP PacWastePlus report includes policy and legal reforms and improved waste infrastructure recommendations. It is currently commercial-in-confidence.

The review details progress made by many Pacific countries on waste management laws and institutions – in particular to address plastic waste and marine plastic pollution. But some implementation challenges remain, including gaps in laws and policy. The review points to potential solutions for each country, as well as areas that could benefit from improved national waste facilities, better cooperation across the region, or the involvement of non-government organisations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the need to manage healthcare and quarantine waste effectively in situations where resources for waste management may be limited.

Waste is a problem for the Pacific region due to:

  • limited facilities for waste collection, storage and treatment
  • ocean pollution, disproportionately affecting Pacific countries due to long coastlines, illegal dumping at sea, and ocean currents carrying plastic waste to their shores
  • increased consumption of imported electronics and other consumer goods, with limited opportunities for recycling
  • lack of space for landfill, often due to the size of small island nations
  • underdevelopment of legal models and approaches to waste management.

To better understand the problem, from December 2019 to May 2020, the research team conducted in-country interviews and studied existing waste-management laws and best practice. They also looked at future plans, including:

  • law, regulation and administration reform – for example, the proposed Cook Islands Solid and Hazardous Waste Bill
  • planned infrastructure – for example, developing a regional recycling hub, with funding to help with the costs of shipping
  • capacity building – for example, training in alternative methods of investigation, dispute resolution and compliance for waste management.

The team considered legislation and policy governing different types of waste. This included healthcare waste, asbestos, e-waste, recyclables, plastic waste (including single-use plastics), bulky waste, organic waste, disaster waste and wastewater.

The countries surveyed include the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Kingdom of Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Next steps

SPREP and the 15 countries are working to implement recommendations from the PacWastePlus Waste Legislative Review, as well as other activities under the PacWastePlus programme.

Funding

European Union through its Economic Development Fund

Australian Government, through its Pacific Ocean Litter Project

Publications

Stocktake of Existing and Pipeline Waste Legislation – Country Reports

SPREP (2020) National options papers for waste legislation in the 15 PacWastePlus participating countries. Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, Apia, Samoa.

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