Government to invite bids for Thilafushi waste processing

The government says it will invite bids next month to separate waste on the “rubbish island” of Thilafushi in the latest attempt to solve the Maldives’ biggest environmental blight.

Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who heads the Economic Council, said he hoped waste separation services would be in place by the end of the year, while a second phase of the project will involve green energy generation from the waste.

“The dumping site will be converted to an environmentally friendly incineration site,” he said.

The changes are to be financed by a new US $6-per-tourist “green tax” introduced in this year’s budget, Adeeb said.

The plan is the latest in a series of attempts to take control of the waste problem at Thilafushi, where garbage from the capital, Male’, and from many resorts is sent.

More than 200,000 tons of industrial and domestic waste were sent to Thilafushi in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to government figures.

While some of the waste is sorted and sent to India, most is simply used as landfill or burned. Campaign groups have highlighted the risks to workers from toxic fumes and the contamination of surrounding lagoons by floating garbage.

The former Maldivian Democratic Party-led government had signed a contract with India-based Tatva Global Renewable Energy in 2011 to provide waste management services in and around Male, including establishing a system to generate power from recycling waste.

However, the current government of President Abdulla Yameen cancelled that deal late last year, having previously sought to renegotiate it on “more mutually beneficial” terms.

Environmentalists have questioned whether the political will exists to transform Thilafushi.

“So far, they’ve been trying for 20 years and it’s only getting worse,” said Maeed Zahir, founder of the environmental NGO Ecocare.

The government has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Emirati company Dubai Ports World for development of a new commercial port at Thilafushi, to be built within two years.