Lack of participation remains an issue – Deo

Recycling Foundation director and founder Amitesh Deo (right) during the inaugural Recycling and Environment Work in Fiji roundtable discussion at the French Ambassador’s residence in Suva. Picture: ATU RASEA

In a country such as Fiji with a population of less than one million, volume is a huge issue in terms of sustaining recycling programs, says Pacific Recycling Foundation founder and director Amitesh Deo.

He said this at the inaugural Recycling and Environment Work in Fiji roundtable discussion on Wednesday, an initiative of the French Embassy in Suva in partnership with PRF and the Government of New Caledonia with support from Bred Bank.

Mr Deo said one of the main issues was the lack of participation from agencies, stakeholders and people in recycling.

He said without active participation it would be very difficult for recycling to be sustained.

“The need for corporate organisations, business houses to be involved and there is a real pushback sometimes from large corporate organisations to be part of this space,” Mr Deo said.

“And without participation from different stakeholders, that becomes really difficult

“In a country like ours, where we have less than a million people, volume is a huge issue when it comes to sustaining recycling concepts.

“So when we talk about recycling generally and why facilities are still at very early stages, why we are still collecting and not processing recyclables here, but shipping it out to other countries is one of the core reasons for that is because of the lack of participation.”

Mr Deo added PRF was at the forefront of community engagement and participation by working with a wide range of actors, including the most marginalised and vulnerable – informal waste pickers who were now called collection pillars of recycling.

“Fiji was also the first place globally which brought recognition to this group.”

Another program the foundation established was the Recycling On the Go (ROG) Ambassadors program where 24 Jai Narayan College students were enrolled to undertake good waste management and sustainable recycling to their families and communities.

“Also in 2023, we will launch a report on the findings with our project with the Jai Narayan School – the Recycling On The Go (ROG) program and then actively roll them out to other schools including an all-girls school and primary school – these are some of the things that are part of the ROG program.”

French Ambassador to Fiji François-Xavier Léger said the roundtable discussion was to allow a safe space to discuss challenges as well as upcoming and innovative concepts to promote recycling or better waste management in Fiji.

He said almost 80 French diplomatic commissions have joined the “Green Embassy” program, born of the desire of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs to commit fully to the energy and ecological transition to reducing its environmental footprint.

“By joining the charter, volunteer embassies affirm their commitment to act on a daily basis and in their immediate environment to protect the planet,” he said.

“In Suva, we have set up selective waste sorting both at the embassy and the residences and have adopted eco-responsible gestures in the office, such as reduction of paper wastage and electricity consumption.”

Recycling activist Suzanne Turaganiwai highlighted the need for more participation from younger people and various stakeholders.

“From my perspective, as a youth activist, we see the problem,” she said.

“We need more help and more participation from other young people and other groups from the different levels of society that can help us, they can work with us and talk with us as well.

“So there should be a better look at what we are using in our homes, in our schools and in our workplace.”

Pacific Island Development Forum Secretary General Solo Wara said one of the main challenges in waste management and recycling was the lack of awareness of the connectivity between recycling and other aspects of sustainable development.

“Although we have a regional focus and to work with communities at the national level, we tried to bring down the sustainable development programs and introduce it at community levels with the support of the private sector and civil society,” he said.

“The pushback we have found during our community engagement is the conservation of the ocean, or how waste affects our food source.

“For example, when you talk to people who are pushing back against waste management and recycling, it tends to focus primarily on that one activity of recycling.”

Mr Solo said one way to overcome recycling hesitation was to encourage discussion on recycling and waste management and to link the activity to food security and conservation.

“It can help in building island resilience, and a light bulb moment, you know, is trapped within the communities and with people’s lives.

“We need to create more awareness within communities, within schools and use faith-based organisations that are quite powerful in the advocacy platform – and get as many partners as possible in this space.”

Principal environment officer at the Department of Environment Kavnil Lal highlighted the need to see recyclables as a resource.

“I think that behaviour, that mindset needs to change,” he said. “To change and see waste and recyclables as a resource, and then this movement can propagate going on with this behavioural change, with this mindset.

“If we continue to have that kind of mindset instead of waste recyclables is only waste that needs to end up in the landfill and is not something that can be put to good use or cannot be upcycled – then we are not heading in the right direction.

“So it’s very important that we start with that kind of mindset and we bring about that behavioural change to see recyclables as a resource, something that is of value and of course, that will help in return to address the waste management issues.”

Mr Lal also said there was a need to consider and revisit people’s consumption patterns.

“There needs to be a behavioural change also in terms of moving away from a society that is a throwaway society, as we are labelled most of the time.

“We need to move away from that kind of mindset towards a more circular economy approach to in terms of our consumption.”

Recycling On the Go (ROG) head ambassador Hefuhelava Kamaile said there was a need for active participation in the recycling or waste management space.

“In regards to environmental education, it was a process that allowed majority of the individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem-solving and take action to improve the environment,” she said.

“In our case, students have been encouraged to research, investigate how and find out why things happen and form their own opinions on complex issues, rather than just being told information.

“Environmental education, as we have learned throughout the year, it has promoted critical and creative thinking skills and inspired kids to become more engaged to understand why the environment is important, and provides them with the building blocks to live eco-friendly and sustainable lives.

“Students make up an important percentage of the young and educated population and therefore they should be the ones setting up the future trends as far as environmental protection is concerned.

“Students help in educating their colleagues and categories of the population about environmental behaviours and are good actors or agents of change in both their homes and future jobs.”

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