From the Field: Resource Recovery in Fiji

Yes, you read that right. Last week, in partnership with Turtle Island Fiji Resort, I spent eight days in a tropical paradise − digging through the trash.

Yes, you read that right. Last week, in partnership with Turtle Island Fiji Resort, I spent eight days in a tropical paradise − digging through the trash.

Turtle Island Fiji has supported Global Green USA for several years with donated vacation packages to their exclusive 14-unit resort on a private island in the Yasawa Islands region of Fiji, which we auction at our galas. This spring, our CEO Les McCabe sat down with Turtle Island staff members to learn if there were any ways in which Global Green could engage further with the resort and include it in our program work. Their response, much to my good fortune was, “We need a zero waste plan!” So a few months later, I packed up my scale, steel-toed boots, and a volunteer, and headed out by jet and then tiny seaplane to Turtle Island, Fiji.

To describe it as paradisiacal is an understatement. Coconut palms, breadfruit trees, and flowering bushes grow everywhere. Coral reefs teem with fish just a few yards off the white sand beaches - for someone who studied the natural sciences, it was an incredible treat to get to see these ecosystems firsthand. At night the silence, except for insects and birds of course, was more profound than anywhere else I had been, and the stars (Southern Hemisphere stars, no less!) were unbelievably clear. The atmosphere of the resort was truly unique as well – the mood was laid-back and welcoming, and the staff and guests were encouraged to mingle and get to know each other. Many of the staff remarked during our stay that Turtle Island was the best resort that they had ever worked at because it was done truly Fijian style.

During our stay, we accomplished three key things: first, we audited the waste on the resort and at the nearby village of Matacawalevu, which is home to some of the resort staff and is fairly representative of the 26 villages scattered across the island chain. Second, we met with key decision makers on both islands and discussed alternative practices and purchases that could help ensure that the disposable items brought onto the islands can be composted or recovered. Finally, we set up a bin system at Turtle Island to help their staff begin separating more of their waste for composting, and eventually also for recycling.

Why eventually? Because right now, there is no readily available transport in that region to bring the waste from the islands to the mainland, where it could be sorted and conveyed to a remanufacturing site. Our next steps over the next few weeks will be to present key leaders at both the villages and the resort with short-, medium-,  and long-term recommendations, as well as plans for achieving them, which can get more waste off the islands and to the places where it can be properly processed. This will help protect their extraordinarily beautiful islands, as well as capture valuable materials that can displace virgin material, thus helping keep other environments around the world beautiful as well.