UNEP launches $515m island nation waste management fund


Thirty-three small island developing states (SIDS) join global launch of half-billion-dollar initiative to avoid marine damage and sustainably manage their environments.

Many island nations have limited disposal capacity and prohibitive export costs as a result of their small scale, which means that over 80% of mismanaged waste in SIDS ends up in the ocean, according to UN reports. This leads to biodiversity loss, acceleration of climate change effects through emissions from waste, loss of national tourism revenue and health impacts for local people exposed to the pollution.

To resolve this, island nations from across the Atlantic, Caribbean, Indian and Pacific oceans have signed up to $515m of investment to prevent the release of over 23,000 metric tons of toxic chemicals and more than 185,000 metric tons of marine litter by 2027.

Led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), ISLANDS will help participating countries control the import of hazardous substances, put in place safe disposal infrastructure for harmful chemicals and waste, and establish circular production systems.

Permanent secretary of Saint Lucia’s Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development, Anita Montoute, said “ISLANDS represent an unprecedented opportunity for SIDS – for all stakeholders, including governments, businesses and communities, to come together and work collaboratively to improve the health of our fragile environments. The outcomes of this programme will undoubtedly be felt for generations to come.”

GEF CEO Carlos Manuel Rodriguez said: “By collaborating and working closely with industry, the ISLANDS programme will allow some of the most world’s vulnerable countries to transform the way waste is treated and make real progress towards building a circular economy. In that sense, this programme is going to be important for the whole world.”

Private sector backing

The programme has already secured commitments from the private sector, including Carnival Cruise Lines, which will partner with municipal authorities to jointly process local and cruise ship waste in the Caribbean, and tourism and hotel operator Iberostar, which has pledged that by 2025 no waste from its hotels will go to landfill.

Another innovative aspect of ISLANDS is its Waste-Free Shipping Partnership, an initiative that will provide free shipping of recyclables to recycling facilities, saving limited landfill space and creating new opportunities for island-based recycling companies. 

In the Pacific, navigation company Swire Shipping has committed in-kind co-finance to help ISLANDS to develop end-of-life vehicle export and recycling businesses, and to provide free shipping of recyclables from Pacific countries to centers on the Pacific rim.

Swire Shipping managing director James Woodrow, explained: “Through ISLANDS we have the opportunity to scale up our Pacific-based Moana Taka Partnership – an agreement through which our vessels carry containers of recyclable waste, pro bono, to be treated and recycled in the Asia Pacific – to involve all shipping companies servicing small islands and significantly increase recycling rates.”