The island nation of the Maldives is famous for crystalline waters and vibrant coral reefs. However, rampant plastic pollution threatens these core features of the Maldives. One women’s group, however, is working to alter that trajectory by reducing plastic pollution in the Maldives.
An Island Nation
The Maldives, a nation comprising 185 islands, is intimately connected with the ocean that surrounds it. Beaches and oceans form the backbone of the Maldives’ tourism sector. With tourism being the main driver of economic growth and business profits in the Maldives, the well-being of the Maldivian tourism industry is directly linked to the well-being of the Maldivian economy.
In addition to being vital to the popularity of Maldivian tourism, the ocean fuels the fishing industry in the Maldives. Of poor households in the Maldives, 26% make their livings by fishing and nationally, 11% of Maldivians find their employment at fisheries.
Plastic Pollution in the Maldives
Growing plastic pollution in the Maldives, however, threatens both the tourism and fishing industries. The World Bank estimates that the Maldives produces 365,000 tons of solid waste a year, with the bulk of that waste that resort islands generate. As a result of plastic pollution, plastic has been washing up on beaches in the Maldives and destroying coral reefs. These beaches and coral reefs are fundamental to both the tourism and fishing industries in the Maldives. As plastic pollution threatens to damage the Maldives’ beaches and reefs, it threatens to cripple two of the industries most vital to the Maldivian economy.
Plastic waste also endangers the health of those living in or visiting the Maldives. The Maldives lacks sufficient resources to address with the volume of waste there, with people burning much of the plastic waste or dumping it in the sea. When plastic is burning, it releases toxic and carcinogenic gasses, posing a health threat to Maldivians who breathe the polluted air.
The Maldives Authentic Crafts Cooperative Society
Maldivians have been all but complacent when it comes to the problem of plastic pollution. One group tackling the issue is the Maldives Authentic Crafts Cooperative Society (MACCS). MACCS started its journey in 2011 with the original intention of preserving traditional artistic practices. After witnessing the declining practice of traditional artforms as imported counterfeit versions gained popularity among tourists, a group of 10 women created MACCS with the goal of reviving traditional art forms.
One of its first projects was to revitalize marshlands where reed grass grows, grass that is used for traditional mat weaving. Seeing the close connection between traditional Maldivian artforms and the island nation’s environment, MACCS decided to broaden its focus to encompass protecting the Maldives’ natural assets, as well as its cultural artforms.
In 2021, MACCS worked in partnership with the World Bank and other Maldivian organizations to educate households about how to improve waste sorting and reduce waste production. As part of the project, MACCS worked with residents on 20 islands to improve their waste management approaches and divert plastic pollution from the ocean.
To address the root of the Maldives’ plastic pollution, MACCS has been working to reduce the use of plastic grocery bags. With support from the UNDP, MACCS completed a pilot project in June 2022. For the pilot project, participants could scan a chip on their reusable bag each time they used the bag. When participants scanned the chip, they would earn points that they could save up to receive rewards to incentivize the use of reusable bags. The pilot project started with 500 bags, but MACCS is hopeful to expand in the future and further its efforts to reduce plastic pollution in the Maldives.
– Anna Inghram