Published on 30th October 2012
Carrying out a waste audit is dirty, smelly work, but it had to be done to improve waste management in the town of Luganville.
After sifting through hundreds of tonnes of household waste in New Zealand, Ireland and Vanuatu, Mary O’Reilly has discovered that rubbish smells the same wherever it comes from.
“The smell is the same, though there are a few more flies in Vanuatu because of the heat,” says Mary, who is on assignment as a waste management adviser with the Luganville Municipal Council and the Sanma Provincial Council.
In April Mary and her colleagues carried out a waste audit of 50 Luganville households and 12 local businesses to establish how much and what kind of waste is being generated in the provincial capital. With the help of students from the University of the South Pacific they sorted, categorised and weighed more than four tonnes of rubbish collected over a seven-day period.
It was dirty, smelly work but, according to Mary, the audit provided the information they needed to develop a draft waste management plan for Luganville and Sanma province.
“Before you can come up with a waste management plan you need to know how much waste you are dealing with, and what sort of waste it is.”
The draft plan is now being circulated for comment, and is expected to be approved by the end of the year.
Like many other small Pacific towns the amount of waste produced in Luganville is increasing, but the town lacks the infrastructure to deal with it. At present it has only one unreliable rubbish truck to serve a population of about 12,000, and few recycling facilities. Cardboard boxes and plastic bags litter the main street, and food waste sits rotting in piles around the market and outside people’s homes.
The amount of inorganic waste, such as old electrical goods and computers (known as waste electrical and electronic equipment or WEEE), is also increasing. In addition, the town’s landfill has now reached the end of its useful life and needs to closed and replaced with a new landfill.
“At the moment, waste is not such a huge problem in Luganville, but the population of the town is growing exponentially,” says Mary. “That means it’s important to develop the infrastructure needed to deal with waste in the future.
“The Councils are keen to start making progress with waste management, especially as Luganville is becoming better known as a tourist destination. The authorities want to present a clean, green image to people arriving from visiting cruise ships.”
The draft plan makes a number of recommendations to improve waste management in the town. These include introducing official council rubbish bags, increasing the number of rubbish trucks, and developing a new landfill. It’s hoped that work will start on implementing these recommendations next year.
In the meantime, Mary and her colleagues are already taking steps to deal with the town’s WEEE, and with the large amounts of organic waste being left to rot at the local market. They will soon start collecting used electrical goods and old computers and storing them in a shipping container donated by a local businessman.
"Basically we’ll be collecting anything that has a cord or a cable,” says Mary. “At the moment a lot of it is being buried or burned. We will store it in the container until we work out how to dispose of it – possibly by sending it by sea to be recycled in Australia or New Zealand.”
They’re also about to start a trial composting system at the local market.
“We’ll start small but we’ve designed a modular unit that you can add onto. Once the market ‘mamas’ have learned how to use it, we can add more bins. The mamas will be able to take the compost home to use on their gardens.”
This article was originally published in VISTA magazine, October 2012.
Read more about how VSA volunteers are working to strengthen education in the wider Pacific and Asia.
"Hi Sjirk, thanks for your comment. I'm pleased to say that VSA volunteers are working hard in this area. You may be interested to read this article on Mary's recent compost project (http://bit.ly/12pd0RE), and this one on Sean Toland (http://bit.ly/11Iz3xQ), who has recently arrived to work on waste management, too." - Mary Little
"I have just returned from Vanuatu with my family and observed a big waste problem. It is clear that the infrastructure to deal with the increasing volume of rubbish is lacking and sadly there seems to little public awareness. It makes me sad and mad to see all the beaches littered with rubbish originating from affluent life styles. Thanks for your great work all of which will hopefully help make a difference." - Sjirk Bangma