environmental responsibility Hotel News personal reflections

Maldives tourism trash problem

The Maldives is one of the world’s top luxury vacation destinations due to its clear waters, pristine white sand beaches and coral atolls with world-class resorts like Four Seasons, W Retreat, Park Hyatt and more. The Maldives is a tourist destination where the number of visitors annually, on pace to exceed one million arrivals in 2014, outnumbers the 350,000 island residents by 3:1.

Europeans have been the largest tourism demographic since the first hotel resorts were built in the Maldives in the early 1970s. In 2014, for the first time, visitors from the Asia-Pacific region surpassed Europeans. 313,000 Europeans traveled to the Maldives between January and July 2014. Arrivals reached 341,000 from Asia-Pacific nations, led by Chinese as the largest single nationality visiting the Maldives with 215,000 arrivals. This was a 20% increase in Chinese over 2013. Americans accounted for about 14,000 arrivals from January to July 2014.

105 tourist resorts with 22,944 beds comprise more than 80% of the lodging availability in the Maldives.

Gary Leff of View from the Wing has a comprehensive trip report of his May 2014 stay at Park Hyatt Maldives.

The question addressed in this article is where does all the trash generated by one million tourists in the Indian Ocean remote islands paradise go once the tourists leave after their average stay of six days in luxury resorts?

Maldives Tourism Trash Problem

Tourists generate twice as much waste per person as residents of the islands’ nation capital city of Male with an estimated 3.5 kg (over 7 pounds) daily and about five times the waste generated by islanders on the other 200 populated islands of the Maldives.

Thilafushi, located four miles from the capital Male, is an island created in 1992 for trash collection from the 100+ tourist resort islands of the Maldives.

Descending by plane into the Maldives offers a panoramic view of azure seas and coral-fringed islands, but as the tarmac nears, billowing smoke in the middle distance reveals an environmental calamity.

‘Toxic bomb’ Ticks on Maldives Trash Island (Oct 18, 2013)


A migrant from Bangladesh, he is one of several dozen employees on “Rubbish Island” — the biggest waste dump in the country where he’s paid $350 a month for 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.


Bottles of beer — illegal for local Muslims but ubiquitous on tourists’ islands — lie scorched next to piles of half-burnt hotel forms requesting speed boat transfers.

Thilafushi was brought to my attention today by an unexpected source, The Weather Channel.

Maldives Trash

After looking through the photos in the article, I did a Google search of Maldives trash and learned quite a bit about the environmental impact of tourism on the Maldives. This is a country that had fewer than 2,000 international visitors in 1972 and will surpass one million tourists in 2014.

The country apparently is only presently in the stages of developing a comprehensive waste management plan.

Here are links to some of the best articles I read today on the issue.

TakePart.com – Garbage in Paradise: Inside the Maldives’ Trash-Only Island (May 21, 2012) – article by Jon Bowermaster, six-time grantee of National Geographic Expeditions Council.

One major worry is that if toxic products such as mercury, lead, or asbestos leak into the sea, it will have a dramatic effect on the undersea environment and will eventually find its way into the food chain. Initially, the garbage was buried on the island; now it is burned. The nasty smoke gives residents of Male headaches and coughs, especially when the winds blow from the west. Bluepeace, the 30-year-old environmental group that monitors local issues, calls the garbage island a “toxic bomb in the ocean.”

Daily Mail UK – Paradise trashed: The beautiful island in the Maldives that’s been reduced to a pile of rubbish – Chris Hall – June 23, 2012 (good photos).

Three-quarters of a million tourists flock to the pristine, white beaches every year – but this booming industry has come at a price. When the influx of foreigners left the government struggling to cope with a relentless stream of rubbish, their answer was to turn one of this islands into a dumping ground. Now, as they finally put an end to the practice of discarding and burning 330 tons of waste a day, Live looks at the damage already done. – Chris Hall.

Le Monde (English version) – Maldives: Idyllic Archipelago’s Unprecedented Floating Trash Dump – May 11, 2012

It’s now become a race against time. Maldivian authorities are struggling to minimize the toxic effects from Thilafushi. A new law is on the ropes, to limit the types of garbage that are destined for combustion: “Only organic materials,” Ahmed Murthaza says. At the same time, the Maldives is starting to export its recyclable waste, mostly iron and plastic, to China, Malaysia and neighboring India.

Garbage has already become the archipelago’s number two export, after the fishing industry.

Ecology.com – Trash in an Island Paradise – Bob Petz, May 21, 2012

Along with the crystal clear waters that attract well-pocketed tourists, Maldives is home to some of the richest coral reefs on Earth. Marine life includes well over 1,000 species of fish, almost 200 species of coral, 400 species of molluscs and 48 shrimp species.

Yet, the geology of the islands is prime for toxic leaching. Beneath a 6 inch layer of topsoil lies about 2 feet of sandstone, and under that, permeable sand and water.

Minivannews.com – Maldives’ waste management hampered by local politics, lack of funding – Leah Malone Jan 23, 2013

Resorts going it alone

Resorts are aiming for “self-sufficiency” when it comes to waste management, since there are no regional centres in operation.

While there are tourism regulations that require certain waste management systems are constructed on resorts, they are only inspected once constructed, Nizam told Minivan News.

“Facilities are not properly used, are very costly, and some resorts claim tourists do not want to see waste burning,” he said.

Whether resorts adopt sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices is de facto voluntary.

Some are motivated by the need to maintain an eco-friendly reputation and sell the Maldives as a “premium [vacation] destination” that is also “environmentally sensitive,” a resort manager told Minivan News.

Their resort is “trying to do the right thing” and has developed a waste management system that has reduced 70 percent of their waste.

“Thilafushi is just wrong. We have reduced our trips there from seven per week to one,” the source stated.

The resort also conducts training for staff and their Maldivian team has “embraced” these environmentally friendly practices, the manager claimed.

What are the resorts in Maldives doing about tourism waste?

Gili Lankanfushi Maldives is a tourist resort in the North Male Atoll and TripAdvisor.com Travelers Choice 2014 hotel. The resort ranks 5 of 5 circles with 801 reviews.

Maldives Gili Lankanfushi

One of the page tabs is Social & Environment.

Waste Management

Gili Lankanfushi continued aim towards sustainable waste management is based on: ‘Reduce’, ‘Reuse’, ‘Recycle’, ‘Don’t use it’ and ‘Dispose if there is nothing that can be done’. Styrofoam boxes that come to the island are being given to the neighbouring Himmafushi Island for reuse.

In 2006, we began an extensive waste management programme. Waste is now collected at the source separately in colour-coded bins at the Heart of the House. All the organic waste is then used in composting, which is used in the two gardens of the island. Waste that does not receive treatment is disposed at a municipal landfill some 12 kilometres away from the resort, where it receives final treatment.

A set of responsible purchasing ensures that minimum waste arrives to the island.

Waste Incineration

All the office paper used in the resort is incinerated after double-sided printing. Cardboard and other forms of paper are also incinerated on the island. The volume of this incineration is safe for the environment and does not pollute the air.

All glass bottles and other glasses are collected for treatment onsite. An electric crushing machine crushes all the glasses and transform it to sand or gravel sizes before being used in building construction.

What are we doing?

  • Liquid soaps, shower gel, shampoo and body lotion are stored in refillable ceramic bottles and delivered to the resort in bulk.
  • Fruits and vegetables come in reusable baskets.
  • Wastebaskets in the guest rooms do not have a plastic or paper liner.
  • Waste collection bins in the kitchen and public spaces have tough, reusable liners.
  • Waste-free breakfast: The use of individual packs of cereal, butter, jam and yoghurt has been discontinued at the breakfast buffet. Items for breakfast are purchased in bulk and displayed on the buffet in bowls to eliminate waste.
  • We use starch-based biodegradable materials for disposable items in picnics and excursions.

Many of us dream of a vacation in the Maldives. Some travelers allot funds to travel savings for this kind of trip. Some plan honeymoons. Some save points and miles for award flights to Male and hotel nights with Hyatt, Starwood, and Hilton.

I read one article that mentioned two airlines (not by name) that gave passengers on flights a trash bag for their Maldives vacation they could bring back full on the plane, free of charge, when departing the Maldives.

Think about your environmental impact when traveling. Strive to travel with a light global footprint.


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

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  • Chili Palmer October 1, 2014

    Can I get a link to that Maldives St. Regis?

  • Robert October 1, 2014

    Perhaps consider writing an article about how many islanders have an actual job now because of tourism–poverty and joblessness of an unimaginable dimension was prevelant before tourism brought dollars in. Shame on someone who generates needless trash, but it’s not my problem or concern how a location welcoming visitors disposes of their trash. This article makes about as much sense as the global warming cheerleaders flying from around the world to Brazil to talk to each other about what warming does.

  • JustSaying October 1, 2014

    Great post! Keep it up! When I go I will take back my trash…….

  • Ric Garrido October 1, 2014

    @Chili Palmer – You caught me tossing around luxury brand names. Should have been W Retreat Maldives. Corrected now.

  • David October 2, 2014

    My wife and I stayed at the Conrad Rangali in April, which, BTW, was pretty much the best place I’ve ever stayed. We had a “family suite” even though it was just the 2 of us.

    When we checked in, the hotel made the request that we pack our trash out with us as much as possible and deposit it when we made our next connection. This (obviously) isn’t all the trash we generated (restaurant trash, etc.), but we kept wrappers, packaging, tags from purchases, things like that. It filled maybe a gallon-sized bag. We dropped that off at the airport on a connection.

    We were there for a week and only saw one instance of litter. A lonely diaper floated away on the surf during tea one day. Pretty nasty, but isolated.

  • Chili Palmer October 2, 2014

    How does moving trash from one place to another help?

    Now, you’ve added a gallon-sized bag to the trash problem. And, if it weighed anything substantial, used more jet fuel to transport it.

  • Ric Garrido October 2, 2014

    @David – I read a couple of Maldives government documents which I did not link in this post.

    This is a recent comprehensive government report on waste management in the Maldives. Some statistics cite tourists generate 21% of waste in country. The majority of tourist hotels and resorts are in close proximity to Male.


    Assessment of Solid Waste Management Practices and Its Vulnerability to Climate Risks in
    Maldives Tourism Sector

    Tourist Waste Components.
    Food discards are separated from other wastes and dumped in the ocean.
    Combustible waste components including garden / yard (landscaping) trash and paper products are incinerated. Combustion under suitable process systems can reduce waste volume up to 90%. Since the incinerators at resorts do not operate under ideal conditions a lesser volume reduction would be expected. Glass waste is required to be volume reduced in a crusher.

    There is limited potential for recycling as recyclables comprise a small quantity of discards, the dispersed
    generation of materials presents a logistics obstacle to cost effective consolidation, and the Maldives are distant from end user markets in India.

    Residual waste includes construction and demolition (C&D) debris (organics such as wood and paper and inorganics such as concrete), glass, miscellaneous discards such as textiles, leather, rubber, and hazardous waste such as batteries. Some of these residuals such as glass are recycled or used as clean fill on resort developments.

    • Tourism is a critical part of the Maldivian economy, as it accounts for 30.2% of GDP. Proper solid waste management is an important element to maintaining and even expanding tourism’s role in the economy. Visitors to the Maldives are seeking a pristine environment, not one with garbage floating in the sea and trapped on the reefs.

    • The amount of solid waste generated in the Maldives at the tourist facilities (180 mtpd) and island communities (240 mtpd) are manageable. Nonetheless, the waste is dispersed over a wide area leading to logistically challenging and expensive options for the collection and treatment / disposal. Failure to implement a rational solid waste program will have a long-term deleterious effect on the tourism sector.”

    The Maldives knows garbage in the ocean and on the beaches will have a negative impact on their tourism which accounts for about 30.2% of the Maldives economy. The expense of transporting garbage from far flung resort islands provides incentive to require resorts to minimize their waste on-site and have tourists transport waste with them off the resort islands.

  • Ric Garrido October 2, 2014

    @Chili Palmer – the essence of waste management is moving trash from one place to another. The general idea is to get the trash away from the Indian Ocean and onto the mainland anywhere for disposal.

    Jet fuel is certainly another issue. Then, again, tourists flying off to the Maldives and taking boats to remote islands are likely not too concerned about the fuel usage for their trip. Garbage is something tangible to physically handle.

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