Seeking waste solutions in the Maldives

Whilst most of staff and students had a relaxing Easter break, three Engineering and Environment researchers spent part of their break in the Maldives. Rather than being on holiday enjoying the ‘sunny side of life’ as the Maldivian tourist industry would say, they experienced the opposite, by analysing waste at an open dump.

Dr Richard Beaven and Dr Anne Stringfellow, experts in waste, and coastal engineer Dr Sally Brown were invited by the Maldivian Ministry of Environment and Energy to examine possible ways to manage or clean an open dump site, and determine the risk of coastal erosion to the site. The dump is located in Addu City, the country’s second largest population centre. It accepts household waste, garden and commercial waste from the surrounding two atolls, including tourist islands. Located adjacent to the main access road, the dump is unsightly and smells, and potentially contains a toxic mix of chemicals.

Anne and Richard analysed gas emissions and leachate to obtain preliminary measurements to understand how hazardous the waste is, and therefore the challenges of waste remediation. Dr Richard Beaven: “The groundwater under the dumpsite is already heavily affected by seawater intrusion, and the biggest environmental problems we found relate to the open burning of waste at the site, and wind-blown litter entering the sea.”

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Anne sampling open ponds containing leachate at the dump

Dr Sally Brown said “The Maldivian government know they have a serious problem with waste, and a shortage of land and technology to deal it. They are keen to find a positive solution to reduce waste, recycle and clean up the coastline where rubbish is dumped.”

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Sally investigates the coast next to the open dump. She found waste on the beach, but probably not from the dumpsite.

The Maldivian government is currently commissioning a waste-to-energy plant, leading Dr Anne Stringfellow to comment “If we can better understand the make-up of the waste in the dump then the high calorific material could potentially be extracted and used as a feedstock for the new waste incinerator”.  This could result in a win-win scenario, where some energy is produced at the same time as the dump site is reclaimed.

The group are writing up their findings to NERC who funded their visit, and to the Maldivian government.

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Many locals dump their waste on the shoreline, where it falls into the sea 
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