Home to approximately 1200 low-lying coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is famous for its sun-kissed beaches, crystalline lagoons and its rare underwater beauty.
Year around, tourists from all around the world travel miles to experience the beauty of the country that by some are described as “Paradise on Earth”. A majority of these tourists come specifically to experience the pleasure of diving into the deep blue oceans with vibrant coral reefs and a rich variety of life underwater such as lionfish, angelfish, dolphins, whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles. Now imagine, the complete disappointment one would feel when a once in a lifetime experience is interrupted by floating plastic in the ocean. Imagine the feeling of seeing the very animals that one comes to witness, tangled in a plastic bag and struggling for air.
The unpleasantness resulting from such imagery is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the harmful effects of plastic and plastic pollution. For instance, plastic can pose deadly threats to the coral reefs, marine and land animals and their ecosystems. The everlasting nature of plastic coupled with the absence of comprehensive recycling programs and government regulation on single-use plastics, only adds to the case. In such a scenario remarkable attempts such as that of The Maldives Authentic Crafts Cooperative Society (MACCS), a grantee of Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Maldives is very much needed and appreciated.
MACCS is a women-led cooperative that promotes sustainable livelihood through the revival of traditional Maldivian handicrafts industry. The project advocating against single-use plastic bags by MACCS is popularly known as “Plastic Noon Gotheh” which can be roughly translated to “A Way without Plastic.” Intending to conserve the environment by promoting and facilitating the banning of single-use plastic bags in the capital of Maldives, Male’ city, it focuses on increasing awareness, community-centered reduction of plastics, demonstration of alternatives and policy advocacy. The project will also assess the level and nature of the use of single-use plastic bags in selected households and shops and the acceptance of alternative bags.
So, reusable bags were given to selected shops in Male’ to be distributed to the customers. The effectiveness of this plan was challenged by how the use of plastic bags have become a part of everyday life with many collecting plastic bags to use as bin liners. Undoubtedly, using single-use plastic bags is convenient and easy. You use it, you throw it with little thought. This, in turn, has resulted in greater resistance to switch to alternatives. However, it should be emphasised and reminded that the cost of using plastic to the environment and our health far exceeds the benefit of convenience. Moving away from single-use plastic has proven to be a challenging but necessary change.
The team of Plastic Noon Gotheh has recognised the need for such a change and is committed to reducing single-use plastic in the Maldives through persistent hard work. In doing so, they believe in working collectively and hence have actively partnered up with various NGOs, private firms and government agencies and in many events such as “Dhulha Heyo, Hashi Heyo” (National Level Sports Fiesta), Fannungedharin (Youth Music Show) and Zero Plastic Run.
A major achievement and an indicator of the success of the project is the efforts of one of the selected shops, “Vega Point” to continue the initiative and importing paper bags by themselves to make the move away from plastic to paper more permanent. The efforts of MACCS through the project has also been recognised and praised both nationally and internationally. The project team had the privilege of being part of the event that marked the commencement of banning single-use plastic at the President’s Office, Maldives. It has also been featured in GEF’s publication; Plastics and Circular Economy: Community Solutions and represented in Washington with attendees at the GEF Council Consultation with civil society organisations in Washington, DC.
A major win for all the individuals doing their bit against single-use plastics, was the announcement of a national ban on plastic bags in December 2018. It was a promising result of an inspiring effort by students of 17 institutions who submitted a proposition to the parliament under an initiative by Ghiyasuddin International School. With the new promise to make the island free of plastic bags by 2020, it’s about time to make “a way without plastic” the way of life to ensure that the Maldives lives to its title as Paradise on Earth and for the wellbeing of all life here.
Photo by Ashwa Faheem
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