Posted inStory / Solomon Islands

Innovator sees possibilities in waste management, inspires national movement against plastics

Solomon Islands leads a growing army of individuals who are passionate to reduce plastic waste by transforming it into money-making products for the local and tourism market

An innovator from the Solomon Islands has encouraged the Pacific community to see the possibilities in waste management, particularly the chance to empower women and young people in the process.

Rendy Solomon, Founder and Chairwoman of PlasticWise Gizo, an initiative to educate communities on waste management including turning plastic waste into colorful handicrafts, shared her experience on the 4th day of the Third Clean Pacific Roundtable (3rdCPRT) during a panel discussion on “Rallying communities around waste management.”

PlasticWise Gizo is a leading Non-Governmental Organisation based in Gizo Western Province. Solomon leads a growing army of women, schools, provinces and churches who are passionate to find fun ways to reduce plastic waste and turn them into money making products for the local and tourism market.

“We recognise that women are limited in terms of decision making,” she said. “So we see PlasticWise Gizo as an empowering tool for women in different ways, including the ability to earn income to look after their families. One of the engagement strategies is to recognise women leadership and empowerment capacity. It allows sustainability in whatever policy that we implement to advance our cause.”

Solomon is adamant that PlasticWise Gizo is not just for women, it is about changing mindsets in the community on waste and pollution. From humble beginnings, the movement has been recognised nationally and internationally because of the positive difference it is making to the environment and the lives of its members.

“We work hard to engage everyone including schools and one of the most pleasing aspects is the enthusiasm shown by the young people towards what we are doing,” Solomon said. “The churches are also a very powerful force and they play a crucial role in disseminating information. There is a culture of volunteerism in the church, that is one of their strengths and we are very pleased to work with them.”

PlasticWise Giso uses all sorts of single use plastics to create their recycled handmade crafts. 

So how did this movement start?  In 2014, Solomon, who is an environmental health specialist, had the opportunity to study in Kitakyshu, Japan. She was so inspired by the innovative solutions to address waste management in Japan, that when she returned to the island home, she wasted little time in putting her newfound knowledge into action. 

It 2017, a group of five women started cleaning the beach, collecting plastics, mosquito nets and all the waste that had come in from the sea.  The small and humble clean up activity had a ripple effect and soon Solomon and other like-minded people who were passionate about cleaning Gizo, were organising activities such as school projects on waste disposal, radio programmes on waste separation and compost, dance competitions and more. They have no plans to stop and they are determined to do what it takes to keep their country clean.

But if there is one thing Solomon is particularly proud of, it is the positive impact the project is having on women in the Solomon Islands.

“Some of the women we work with can’t read or write,” she said in an interview when the World Bank featured her in their World Oceans Day media coverage in 2019.  “A lot of them are housewives and before they joined the movement were sitting home thinking: ‘Oh I can’t read. I can’t speak English,’ and feeling like they had limited value and couldn’t contribute. But when they pick up the plastics and make handicrafts to sell, suddenly they are making money and that’s how they survive. It really changes their minds about themselves. And once they start picking up rubbish, they begin to feel responsible for it, and it’s empowering.  

“I think women are crucial in the fight against plastic pollution, but they need to believe that their contribution is valuable. In our society, men make most of the decisions – but women must be part of the solution.”

The Rallying Communities around waste management panel was facilitated by Dwain Qalovaki, an international award winning Sustainability Manager from Fiji, and it also featured Georgina Bonin, of Caritas Samoa, Florence Bule, of World Vision Vanuatu and Camden Howitt of Sustainable Coastlines NZ.

The 3rdCPRT continues this week.

This story was produced by Leanne, published at SPREP on 19 November 2021, reposted via PACNEWS.

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