While visiting the Maldives I learned that local island Ukulhas had achieved a Green Leaf award for its outstanding services on protecting and preserving the island’s environment.
Keen to find out more I arranged an interview with Shaukath Ibrahim, the council president, to find out more.
Q. How did Ukulhas come to be the first eco-friendly local island in the Maldives?
We were the first ones who took the initiative after the opportunity was given to us back in 2010. Leaders from 40 island councils were invited to visit a waste management program in Sri Lanka to see an example of the best waste management practices in their area. Our council got the invite so we went there and saw that this is something we could implement on this island. At first, we started without any machines or labour, we started small and eventually grew larger.
Q: When you implemented the waste management initiatives on the island what kind of difference did it make?
In 2010 you could not use any of our beaches. They were full of rubbish including plastic bags, nappies, cotton cloths etc. Even the sea was full of plastic waste. During those times we couldn’t even go to our own beach. There were high cases of fever in children and diseases were spreading.
After commencing the waste management program these diseases went down. In 8 years we were able to reverse this pollution and now our beaches are some of the cleanest in the Maldives.
Q: What are some examples of waste management initiatives on Ukulhas?
Currently, we segregate metals, leaves, plastic and kitchen garbage. Each household segregates these items and then a member of our council will come to collect them.
For the kitchen garbage and leaves, we have a composting program and get a good earning from this. We sell to our own people as well as to people from other islands. Their feedback is very positive. They use it in their gardens and say that it is a great fertiliser for their plants.
Unfortunately, there is no solution to get rid of plastic waste. There are no buyers who will take the plastic in the Maldives, and if they did the shipping costs can be very expensive. Even if we want or not, we have to burn the plastic, but we are doing this because we have no other choice.
Q: What percentage of household waste is made up of plastics?
Plastic is increasing day by day and because we don’t yet have the facilities for plastic waste management we want to look at prevention as the main focus for the future. Currently, we are discussing with some companies in the Maldives about the implementation of glass bottles and water filtrations systems here on the island. Our plan is to eradicate all the plastic from the island.
Q: Are local guesthouses and restaurants participating in eco-friendly practices?
Yes, many are but still, there is a bit of work to do regarding education about plastics. We have a special event each year on January 1st. All the islanders and tourists get together to clean the whole island. We provide t-shirts, cleaning programs and activities, and everyone comes together on that day to keep Ukulhas clean.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
We are looking into solar panels for the homes and guesthouses as an ethical alternative and so we can save money on power bills. Our plan is to make 40% of the city solar powered in the next 10 years.
The current government supports these endeavours and provides free loans for these types of projects so I think we could achieve this within the next 10 years.
We also want to encourage more islands to turn green. So far we have given information about waste management to more than 80 councils with the hope to reach more.