Revisiting Circular Economy in 2023

March 21, 2023

In recent years, the severity of the plastics pollution crisis has become increasingly prominent, and the urgent need for the design and implementation of solutions to curb this crisis is fast gaining priority in the global development agenda. The Circular Economy experiments implemented by the Accelerator Lab of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji is an opportunity to strengthen waste management, reduce plastic pollution and create more economic opportunities in Fiji.

Plastic pollution is especially problematic for island nations in the Pacific Ocean due to its vast expanse and the sheer amount of plastic being leaked from coastal areas or carried via ocean currents. By shifting towards a circular economy model, countries in the Pacific can create more sustainable pathways for tackling the plastic waste problem and reap the economic benefits associated with this model.

At the heart of circular economies are efforts to end resource waste, reduce environmental impact and increase efficiency. The move to a circular economy reduces the negative environmental consequences of our current ‘take-make-waste’ system, and encourages more reuse, repair, and recycle initiatives to counterbalance energy and material consumption from natural resources. The Pacific region is especially vulnerable to the issues caused by single-use plastics, as the pollution that comes from the production and use of these materials are a serious threat to the fragile and beautiful ocean environments, fishing grounds, and marine ecosystems which Pacific islanders are dependent on for food, transportation, and livelihood.

In Fiji, UNDP is creating and supporting multiple local initiatives and projects, working directly with local communities and partners to tackle plastic pollution. These initiatives range from creating awareness and education programs, to piloting the collection of post-consumer plastic waste and repurposing it into new products and materials, thereby promoting circular economies that are improving plastic waste management.

The circular economy model is one that is essential to promoting sustainable efforts in Fiji and other nations. The way that circular approaches to the economy look to re-use, repair, and recycle processes and materials, of all types, is invaluable. Particularly in the matter of plastics, the reuse of these materials through traditional and innovative strategies can significantly reduce the amount of harmful waste found in the ecosystems or town boundaries. It is therefore crucial that town councils in Fiji are involved in the conversation around this, and work to implement, circular economic strategies especially in their day-to-day functions in managing council duties. This can be done through effective education, regulation as in fees or fines, and investment of these bodies, and the effective adoption of a circular economy in Fiji can be realized. These were the sentiments of Ms. Setaita Qalilawa, the Assistant Health Inspector for Nausori Town Council.

The UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji is working with partners to achieve three ambitious plastic pollution targets by 2030. It is taking an inclusive and whole system approach to support interventions in areas such as policies, waste management and capacity development. The Plastics Circularity Systemic Design Workshop organized by the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji in 2022 is the starting point of bringing together stakeholders across the value chain to create a better understanding of the plastics environment as mentioned by Deputy Resident Representative for UNDP Pacific Ms Yemesrach Workie in her opening speech.

Mr. Amrish Narayan, a participant from the Fiji National University, during the workshop highlighted the significance of research for alternative materials such as fibre, cellulose, and bamboo that could provide sustainable solutions to plastic pollution.

The UNDP Pacific Accelerator Lab is also partnering with experts and stakeholders in Fiji to develop sustainable, circular economies. This involves tackling the issue of plastic waste on four fronts: prevention, reducing and recovering, and sustainably managing plastic waste. Mr. Andrew Paris - an expert researcher on microplastics with the University of the South Pacific mentioned that targeted approaches in the plastic lifecycle was vital and he was excited that the UNDP Accelerator lab was providing a platform for all stakeholders to have an impactful tangible effort on the ground. 

Additionally, the Accelerator Lab is diving deeper to explore strategies towards preventing plastic waste by testing circular production pathways that will reduce the use of plastics and increase the recycling rate of post-consumer plastic. To reduce plastic waste, the Lab is collaborating with the public and private sectors to identifying interventions that encourage use of more reusable and durable products and moving away from single-use disposables such as shopping bags, cups, and straws. Mr. Luke Nacei, who attended the workshop in his capacity as a journalist from the Fiji Times highlighted the importance of involving the media to disseminate accurate information to the public and other social media outlets to achieving circular economy aspirations in the region.

The Lab also introduced new educational knowledge products and materials, and are working with its stakeholders in co-crafting policies and revisiting regulations to encourage environmental stewardship, as well as involving local businesses and authorities to explore the potential for a container deposit legislation for Fiji. As a result, the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji is continuing to work towards strengthening partnerships with governments, private sector, CSOs, academia, and local communities, in an effort to build communities to realize this ambitious goal of creating a circular economy for Pacific Island Countries.