The Maldives: Dealing with MSW in paradise

The Maldives is a vast archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It is sparsely populated, having less than half a million people. Income per person is relatively high, estimated by the IMF at US$14,571 in 2019. This level of income has been attained rapidly over the past couple of decades, and is almost entirely due to the growth of tourism.

This rapid growth has given the Maldives a municipal waste problem, as tourism and rising income levels have led to more waste being generated. Additionally, more of that waste comprises plastics, metals and hazardous materials, and is therefore harder to deal with. To this can be added the country’s geography. Large numbers of small widely-dispersed islands present a quite different challenge to, say, a single large city. As we have seen in other developing parts of the world, there is simply no infrastructure to deal with this.

As a response, Thilafushi, a coral atoll, was designated as a landfill island as long ago as 1992, although most of its growth has taken place in the past decade. It takes anywhere between 300 and 800 tonnes per day of waste (statistics are scarce and reports contradictory). This is supposed to be sorted and sent to different areas of the island, although uncontrolled dumping and burning seems to be the norm in practice. The volume of waste has become too large to be properly accommodated, and much leaks back into the surrounding waters. This naturally matters on environmental grounds, and even more so since Thilafushi is only a few kilometres from Malé, the main island and capital of the Maldives.

maldivesSource: Bing Maps. Click here for the precise location online.

The two photographs below show Thilafushi in 2005 and 2019. The southern part has been greatly extended by the landfill site as the volume of waste creeps around the lagoon.

googleearth googleearth2Source: Google Earth Pro

Thilafushi was intended to solve the Maldives’ waste problem, but its inadequacy has become a scandal in itself. The Maldives’ government, spurred by environmental pressures and the need to preserve the country’s reputation as a tourist paradise, has made fitful efforts to improve the situation. Management of the island has, in theory, improved with the creation of Waste Management Corporation Limited (WAMCO) with a mandate to provide a sustainable waste management solution throughout the country. In January 2016, WAMCO officially took over waste management for Malé region. This includes the daily transfer of waste from Malé to Thilafushi and the resulting disposal of waste there.

Greater use of WtE incineration has been the preferred means of alleviating the problem, although until recently little had been achieved, with various plans coming and going without success. In September 2019, the government announced that three small incinerators currently based on Thilafushi will be dismantled and rebuilt on islands on other parts of the country. These are tiny, with daily capacity of four tonnes each, and would appear to be part of a move to dispose of waste in situ rather than ship it to Thilafushi, which will of course lose incineration capacity in the meantime. The move should be completed in early 2022.

The move anticipates a more significant development for Thilafushi, which is the construction of a proper WtE facility there. On 23rd May 2019, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) issued a General Procurement Notice for the Greater Malé Waste to Energy Project. The Ministry of Finance, on behalf of Ministry of Environment, has published an Invitation for Prequalification for sealed bids to design, build and operate a waste-to-energy facility at K. Thilafushi (Reference Number: (IUL)13-K/13/2019/148, Project Number: TES/2019/W-073). The deadline for submission of applications was extended from 18th July to 4th August 2019. This contract will be jointly financed by the ADB, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Japan Fund for Joint Crediting Mechanism. It is expected that the Invitation for Bids will be made in November 2019. Details on the scope of the project are currently not available, but its progress can be tracked on the ADB website here.

2019 has also begun to see some positive developments elsewhere. On 22nd July 2019, the Maldives began generating energy from waste for the first time, through a facility opened in Vandhoo, Raa Atoll. Funded via concessional loan assistance from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Vandhoo Regional Waste Management Centre was established in order to manage waste from the Atolls of Noonu, Raa, Baa and Lhaviyani.


US and China metals scrap

Wastedive has reported that China is to add an extra 5% tariff to imports of selected metal imports, from December 2019. Included are certain scrap metals such as aluminium and copper. These metals already attract Chinese tariffs of up to 50%. The extra tariff may not be implemented; it forms part of the stand-off between the Chinese and US governments over trade, which may yet be resolved amicably. But even an extra 5% will make such trade in scrap metals less profitable than now.

Copper and aluminium are the two leading scrap metal export categories for US-China trade, so it isn’t hard to see why China has targeted these for additional tariffs. But the trade is already a declining one. The US sent US$6.2 billion worth of scrap copper and aluminium to China in 2011, but by 2018 this had fallen to less than US$1.8 billion. Existing tariffs have played their part in this, alongside a wider and ongoing tightening of China’s rules regarding permissible waste imports.


As we have recently seen with plastics, a major and rapid shift is taking place. Only a few years ago, China was the leading destination for all kinds of waste from around the world, but no longer. As of 2020, the Chinese government has indicated that all solid waste imports will be banned. How this will work in practice is currently unknown, but it is certain that the existing trend will accelerate; alternative means of disposal will have to be found in the US and elsewhere for waste products, whose commodity value is falling due to oversupply.

One option is to find alternative export markets for scrap metals. Another is to develop domestic recycling capacity. This is tricky in a market where the value of the product is falling, but there is plenty of interest in the US in new recycling investment. The AcuComm database currently lists around 54 active metal recycling/processing projects in the US. These are worth around US$1.7 billion and come in various sizes. At the larger end of the scale is a proposed US$80 million scrap aluminium recycling plant in Wisconsin which gained planning permission in January 2019. This is due to begin operations towards the end of 2020. Far smaller in scale is a US$1.2 million investment by Nespresso to aid sorting and recycling of its aluminium coffee capsules in New York City. This is due to be operational by the end of 2019.


Potential for waste investment in Slovakia?

On 30th March, Zuzana Čaputová was elected as Slovakia’s President with 58.4% of the vote. When she is inaugurated on 15th June, she will simultaneously become the country’s youngest-ever President and its first female. Her victory marks a triumph for liberalism and progressive politics in a region which is known for conservatism and populism.

The link to the waste industry? Prior to her political campaign, Zuzana Čaputová was a lawyer who won a 14-year legal battle, culminating in the European Court of Justice, representing the residents of her home town Pezinok against the municipal authority’s attempt to establish a landfill close to a residential area. It was a fight, not against the waste industry though, but against corruption.

Waste is a lucrative avenue for organised crime in Eastern Europe, with a plentiful supply of land for landfill sites that is cheaper than in Western Europe and a plentiful supply of illegal waste that can prove to be a good source of revenue for those who can dispose of it.

Slovakia’s President-elect is a strong supporter of the EU and it would come as no surprise to see this allegiance rewarded with an inflow of EU funding for development – with legitimate waste infrastructure projects being a key recipient.

Landfill has been Slovakia’s main method of waste disposal since 2010 (see graphic).

Slovakia waste 2004-16

#Editor’sPick – Recycling & WtE Plants

UAE – Recycling Plant

Construction of an electronics recycling plant

Enviroserve UAE has officially opened The Recycling Hub – the world’s largest integrated e-waste recycling facility – in Dubai.

The plant, which can recycling the full range of electronic equipment, has the capacity to process up to 100,000 tonnes of waste each year. It is also capable of recycling specialised waste material such as aerosol cans and lightbulbs.

Find out more about this project.

UK – WtE Plant

Construction of a 60 MW WtE plant

FCC Environment and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners have reached financial close for the Lostock Sustainable Energy Plant located in Cheshire.

The facility will be equipped with two furnace-boiler lines and will process up to 600,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) each year. The resulting energy produced will power up to 110,000 homes.

Catch up on the latest from this project.

#Editor’sPick – Biomass and Plastics-to-Fuel Facilities

Finland – Biomass Plant

Construction of a 58 MWth wood-fuelled biomass plant

Fortum has revealed that construction will begin this month on a new heating facility in Kivenlahti, Espoo, that will use clean wood-based fuels as feedstock.

When complete, the plant is expected to produce enough heat for the annual consumption of more than 21,000 homes and will reduce the amount of CO2 emissions produced by up to 90,000 tonnes.

See the full details of this project.

UK – Plastics-to-Fuel Plant

Construction of a waste plastics-to-fuel plant

Energy Roots has been granted planning permission for the development of a new facility to convert waste plastics into fuel.

The plant, to be located in Rushden, Northamptonshire, will handle up to 75,000 tonnes of pre-prepared waste plastic each year and will convert it into diesel, petrol and liquid petroleum gas (LPG).

Find out more about the new development.

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Sweden Biogas Plant

Development of a biogas plant at paper mill

Gasum has signed a contract with Stora Enso to develop and operate a biogas plant at the company’s paper mill in Nymölla. The facility will process wastewater effluent into renewable energy.

Continue reading AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Sweden Biogas Plant

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – India Recycling Plant

Construction of an aluminium recycling plant

Hindalco Industries is to develop the state of Gujarat’s largest aluminium extrusion and recycling facility, which is expected to involve investment of over US$200 million.

Continue reading AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – India Recycling Plant

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – US Materials Recovery Facility

Construction of a new materials recovery processing facility

Machinex, who is providing equipment for a new materials recovery facility (MRF) in York, SC, has reported that the plant will be operational in July.

Continue reading AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – US Materials Recovery Facility

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Iran WtE Plant

Development of a waste-to-energy facility

As part of a new project, the Municipality of Mashhad is intending to install and run a waste-to-energy facility, which will incinerate up to 1,200 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) from the local area each day.

Continue reading AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Iran WtE Plant

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Sweden Waste Sorting Plant

Construction of a waste sorting plant

Stockholm Exergi has issued a tender for a new waste sorting plant in Märsta, Stockholm, which will be an extension of the existing Block B2 plant. It comes as the company plans to carry out the BOSS-project (Brista One-Stop Solution), a concept that offers facilities for sorting municipal solid waste.

Continue reading AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Sweden Waste Sorting Plant