The problem: Many small island nations have huge problems disposing of rubbish. Only about 30 years ago, the people of the remote Ha’apai Islands of Tonga led completely sustainable lives eating fish, coconuts and root vegetables.
Today, imported products packaged in plastic saturate their markets. The only way they can get rid of this plastic is to burn it. 97% of rubbish is burned, which is toxic for health (especially for children) and if it’s not burned, it’s dumped on the coast, where the wind blows it into the sea.
Tongans are a very proud people and are the only Polynesian kingdom to have successfully resisted colonisation. It’s not that they don’t care about their islands – there is simply no alternative available. The low-lying area is unsuitable for a landfill, leaving removal by shipping container the only viable option.
Tonga is an exceptionally beautiful area with huge potential for tourism. It is a breeding ground for humpback whales with incredible diving and world-class surf. The people are among the friendliest in the world with British explorer James Cook naming them “the friendly islands”.
But for tourism to develop sustainably, a waste management system is essential – who wants to take a holiday on a beach covered in rubbish? How many marine mammals (a key tourist attraction) will choke to death on plastic bags before something is done?