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FEATURE STORY May 31, 2019

Meet the Innovator Battling Plastic Waste in Tuvalu: Miriama Uluiviti Taukiei

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Marine plastics have put our oceans in danger. By 2050, it is estimated the volume of plastic will be greater than that of fish in the sea. Countries in East Asia and the Pacific contribute the most to marine plastic pollution. For World Oceans Day 2019, we are shining a spotlight on innovators working to stem the tide of marine debris in the epicenter of this crisis.

Miriama Uluiviti Taukiei is working towards an innovative plastic waste tax and a complete single-use plastic ban with the Department of Waste Management in Tuvalu. Tuvalu is an atoll nation of limited landmass, making waste and plastic management very difficult. The waste tax will ensure producers contribute to the removal of all the plastic waste they import.  

 

Tell us about yourself, and your work. 

My name is Miriama Uluiviti Taukiei, I’m 32 years old, married and have 3 handsome boys. I am the Waste Operational Officer on Funafuti. I deal with the waste operations for the whole of Tuvalu – Funafuti and the outer island. I design waste plans, and manage waste collection, recycling, composting, and mechanical maintenance. 

How is plastic waste an issue for oceans/waterways in Tuvalu?

The plastic problem is a big issue in Tuvalu. Plastics are consumed by all living things in the ocean and that affects the food chain and sometimes we find fish and turtles that have died from the plastics they have consumed. 

Since we don’t have a well-operated landfill, the plastics from our dump site sometimes blow out into the ocean. We are working towards plans and ideas to rehabilitate the dump site to better compact and bury all our waste. 

Last year we organized a program for children to paddle to an islet to do a cleanup campaign and we collected 25 bags of JUST plastic bottles and bags. 

We could just keep doing clean up campaigns on the islands to remove waste – but at the dump site there is a lack of equipment, a lack of land and a lack of topsoil to cover the waste. So this is a huge issue. We are trying to battle this issue and we have a lot of work to do to find a solution to this. 

What solutions are you working towards in Tuvalu? 

Plastic is one of the fastest growing threats to our oceans. Since marine pollution originates on land this requires a solution that will focus on the plastic life cycle, so we need to emphasize this problem and get it solved as soon as possible - the best way to do that is through the single-use plastic ban. 

Our single use plastic ban is currently with the Attorney General and before August we should have banned all single use plastic coming into the country.  

We’re also working on a waste tax, meaning every item that comes into the country will have a tax attached to it that will be used at the end of the life of the item to take it from Tuvalu to wherever it can be recycled. 

The department is also working on a recycling station, clean up campaigns on the islands to remove waste with students, youths and communities, and we are leading awareness and education programs in schools that show the effects of not handling plastic waste properly. 

 


"While a lot of the ocean plastic we deal with is not from Tuvalu, I still want to share with everyone that I believe there is cause for hope that we can achieve zero plastic waste in the future. "
Miriama Uluiviti Taukiei
Waste Operational Officer

What do you hope your work can achieve?

A wise man said, a clever person solves a problem but a wise one avoids it – so as I see it, Tuvalu’s problem isn’t to get rid of waste, it has to stop making it. If Tuvalu wants to reach zero plastic it has to change community attitudes. 

This is what I emphasize during community consultations, awareness programs and radio activities. Wherever we go, my aim is to change community attitudes towards waste and plastic. We need to stop thinking about disposal and think about resource recovery. That’s innovation. It’s not only that Tuvalu should achieve zero plastic, but because of our geography, we must achieve it. 

What motivates or inspires you?

Helping others and empowering people is what motivates me the most. Also, looking at the faces of my kids and seeing them eating fresh fish from the ocean and then looking at the pollution that industries create and how that’s affecting the food chain – when the fish on our shores are affected, this will directly impact my baby boys. 

What is next for Tuvalu in addressing this issue? 

I am worried because there are a lot of problems around plastic pollution, and it is a really big issue but there are also exciting parts of it and people everywhere are fighting to solve this problem.

While a lot of the ocean plastic we deal with is not from Tuvalu, I still want to share with everyone that I believe there is cause for hope that we can achieve zero plastic waste in the future. 



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