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FEATURE STORY June 5, 2019

Meet the Innovator Battling Plastic Waste in Solomon Islands: Rendy Solomon

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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.

Rendy Solomon works as an Environmental Health Officer at the Ministry of Health, Solomon Islands. Based in Gizo, in Solomon Islands’ picturesque Western Province, Rendy is also Founder and Chairwoman of PlasticWise Gizo, an initiative to educate communities on waste management that also turns plastic waste into colorful handicrafts.

How did Plastic Wise Gizo begin?

In 2014, I was given the opportunity to study environmental education for three months in Japan, and  I came back passionate about working with communities to improve waste management. But it was challenging, as the budgets in the Ministry were not large enough to sustain the activities.

It wasn’t until 2017 that I was speaking to a woman who wanted to clean the beaches, and I thought: this is where I can help. We started as a small group; cleaning the beach, collecting the plastics, mosquito nets and all waste that had come in from the sea.

Soon we were organizing more activities – including school projects on waste disposal, radio programs on waste separation and compost, dance competitions and participation in World Oceans Day. We collaborated with other passionate people, building more activities, more fundraising and more awareness, all the time promoting the message that we need to clean up Gizo.

How did you come up with the idea to turn plastics into handicrafts?

Well, we collected plastics and waste all across the beaches but we didn’t know what to do with it all! We needed creative ideas. We had more and more women coming in, helping organize the fundraising activities, and sometimes they’d say: ‘Oh I made this bag, this purse, this fan…’ and so forth. We realized there might be a creative solution.

Now in Gizo we go to the women’s church groups and village communities and run awareness talks; not just on cleaning up, but also what to do with the plastics. Women can sell the handicrafts they make from plastics to tourists from the cruise ships. It not only provides an income, but also awareness of the plastic problem we are facing.

 


"I’d like to see schoolchildren and the younger generation get more involved and develop a deeper understanding of our environment. This is the only place we have; the sea is a natural refrigerator and holds our food."
Rendy solomon
Ministry of Health, Solomon Islands

What’s next for Plastic Wise Gizo?

I hope the organization just continues to grow and empowers more communities to join the movement. At the end of 2017, we were invited to join the Australian Plastic Wise network – which is a grassroots movement focused on reducing waste. Gizo is the first international organization to join the network, which means we’re already putting Solomon Islands on the map for managing plastic waste and improving education around plastic. We now also have a Facebook page which helps us connect with more communities, and we’re adopting a more active role in lobbying the government to take action on plastic waste disposal.

What are the biggest issues contributing to plastic waste pollution in Solomon Islands at the moment?

Policy, education, awareness. At the end of the day, the government has to develop a waste management strategy for all businesses, industries and households in the country.

At the same time, people need greater awareness of what happens to plastics and waste. When a fisherman is out on a boat and throws a can into the ocean – where does it end up? We can start small with education, but we need to make sure people are responsible for their actions.

How can women help in the fight against plastic pollution?

I am very passionate about making change, especially in the lives of women. If we take the example of Plastic Wise Gizo, the organization started as only five women, but now we have 111. Some of the women we work with can’t read or write. A lot of them are housewives and before they joined the movement were sitting home thinking: ‘Oh I can’t read. I can’t speak English,’ and feeling like they had limited value and couldn’t contribute.

But when they pick up the plastics and make handicrafts to sell, suddenly they are making money and that’s how they survive. It really changes their minds about themselves. And once they start picking up rubbish, they begin to feel responsible for it, and it’s empowering. They tell me how nice it is to be recognized and to feel valuable. And so many of these women realize they are so creative too; and can make these innovative handicrafts just from discarded plastics. They build friendships, work together and have great fun.

I think women are crucial in the fight against plastic pollution, but they need to believe that their contribution is valuable. In our society, men make most of the decisions – but women must be part of the solution.

What are your hopes for the future of the Pacific?

I’d like to see schoolchildren and the younger generation get more involved and develop a deeper understanding of our environment. This is the only place we have; the sea is a natural refrigerator and holds our food. The biggest thing I want to see is for our younger generation to be responsible, to understand and to know what their roles are. Ultimately, now more than ever, they need to understand that looking after our environment is critical to their future.

For the elders like us, we owe the future to our children. We borrow our environment; and we have to give it back. And the only way to give it back is our actions now and the decisions we make.



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