Ocean plastic pollution has reached a catastrophic level—roughly 11 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean annually, jeopardizing marine ecosystems, major industries such as fishing and tourism, and the livelihoods of millions of people. To reduce plastic pollution in the ocean requires significant changes to solid waste management (SWM) practices. With most plastic ocean debris arising from rapidly growing cities and towns in the developing world, attention should focus there—and on the systems, infrastructure, and governments struggling to keep pace with growing populations and increasing volumes of waste.
Sri Lanka and Maldives’ Susceptibility to Ocean Plastics Pollution
As island nations, Sri Lanka and Maldives represent countries most susceptible to the impact of ocean plastic pollution. And yet, in light of Sri Lanka’s National Action Plan on Plastic Waste Management and Maldives’ Single-Use Plastic Phase Out Plan, both countries are also poised to take meaningful action to mitigate the detrimental impact of plastics pollution. In October 2022, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded the Ocean Plastics Reduction Activity, a five-year project led by RTI that aims to reduce environmental plastics by decreasing plastic inputs and improving integrated SWM practices in both Sri Lanka and Maldives.
In partnership with the Asia Foundation in Sri Lanka, Live & Learn Environmental Education in Maldives, and Planet Partnerships, the project will use a systems strengthening approach, working alongside local counterparts to target system inefficiencies and areas of reliance on virgin plastics. With an acute focus on oceans plastics pollution, this work will mobilize funding for SWM and 3R (reduce, reuse, recycle) activities and improve government capacity to partner with the private sector and civil society.
Reducing Ocean Plastics by Reducing Reliance on Virgin Plastics
Sri Lanka and Maldives’ plastics policy priorities support the 3Rs, prioritizing reductions to the import and use of virgin plastics and plastic products. To set the project up for success, the project is launching with a comprehensive analysis of supply chains and regulatory environments, and identification of context specific opportunities and constraints. Promoting alternatives to plastic inputs and supporting extended producer responsibility, polluter pay principles, and other approaches that reduce inputs will also be crucial, complementary components to this strategy, working in tandem to reduce the volume of imported single use plastics and increase the prevalence of 3R behaviors at the household, community, and private sector levels.
Professionalizing, Improving, and Expanding Solid Waste Management
Waste management services vary in both nations, with heavy reliance on local informal actors for the collection, transport, segregation, recycling, and disposal of solid waste. Working alongside the government and private sector, USAID Ocean Plastics Reduction will strengthen service delivery models and professionalize the waste disposal process, while promoting public and private buy-in surrounding the changes to SWM. Given that solid waste collection currently demands an outsized portion of local government budgets, the project will focus on possible efficiency interventions and working with multilateral agencies, foundations, and investors to ensure funding is available for enduring changes that will decrease solid waste in the environment and improve local access to reliable SWM services.
Empowering Communities to Drive Local Solid Waste Management Solutions
Informal workers, comprised mainly of women and other marginalized populations, represent the base of the SWM pyramid and they often lack legal and economic protections. Understanding how crucial these marginalized actors are, USAID Ocean Plastics Reduction will support independent waste collectors and women-owned recycling businesses to positively impact livelihoods and promote safe working conditions. The project will strengthen community ownership and empowerment by supporting community-level and community-led SWM initiatives, businesses and services, and promote positive social and behavior changes surrounding SWM.
Strengthening the Solid Waste Management-Enabling Environment
The enabling environment surrounding SWM in both nations will be crucial to making this work both effective and enduring. Focusing on local capacity building, USAID Ocean Plastics Reduction will build on the momentum created by new local plastics reduction policies to strengthen government SWM management practices and improve data collection, thus bolstering local ability to prevent and/or respond to the solid waste-related impacts of disasters.
Learn more about RTI’s water, sanitation and hygiene capabilities and solid waste management solutions.