Waste management legislation in Pacific region countries – insights and opportunities

A comprehensive legal review aims to reduce environmental, health and economic risk and improve waste management in 15 Pacific region nations.

Read the reports

In 2018, Vanuatu banned single-use plastic bags, 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 a successful container deposit scheme. But capacity constraints have affected implementation. For example, limited space on the island for recycling, and locating suitable export markets.

Samoa has a water treatment plant that treats wastewater from commercial organisations. The country is investigating delivering treated water to residential customers. This could be funded under the Green Climate Fund.

These are some of the insights identified by a review of waste management in 15 Pacific region countries. 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 and proposed waste laws. 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 Pacific countries on waste management – in particular around plastic waste and ocean pollution. But some challenges remain, including gaps in laws and policy. The review points to potential solutions for each country, such as improved national waste facilities, better regional cooperation, and the involvement of non-government organisations.

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

Waste is a problem for the region due to:

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

Between December 2019 and 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.

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

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.


European Union through its Economic Development Fund

Australian Government, through its Pacific Ocean Litter Project


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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First published on 30 March 2022.

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