All Island communities face waste management issues and these are even more extreme when the island is exceptionally remote. Almost all of the food and consumer goods are imported and they are left with all the packaging (often non-degradable plastics) and waste to dispose of in limited land space. Added to this is the waste from a rapidly growing tourist industry: up from around 5000 visitors in 2005 to over 65,000 per year today.
Following our inaugural visit to Easter Island in 2004, PAA sought partnership with Tahiti which has the most advanced waste management system in the Pacific thanks to French technical expertise, management and training. Tahiti is just a four hour flight from Easter Island. After explaining Easter Islands dire situation to the Tahitian waste management department (Societe Environnement Polynesienne: SEP), we asked them to accompany us to Easter Island to conduct a waste characterisation, management and implementation study for Easter Island’s waste. In January 2005, Guillaume Gay, Chief engineer for the Tahitian Waste Management Department, accompanied our CEO, Petra Campbell, on a reconnaissance mission. In September 2006, Petra and Guillaume jointly delivered the plan to the Mayor of Easter Island and the Governor of Chile.
Along with the report, the SEP donated specially designed containers for the disposal of batteries from electronic devices and for waste oil. A local artist designed the face of the containers. We made two TV commercials for local TV in both Rapa Nui and Spanish, modelled on the SEP's public information campaign, with relevant segments filmed in Easter Island. PAA then organised for Easter Island's Waste Management Department to be trained in Tahiti on how to collect, sort and bale recyclable waste, how to use their horizontal baler, and how to build a sanatary landfill. On subsequent monitoring and evaluation visits we found Easter Islanders were using them but there was still a major obstacle: the waste was being collected and accumulated, but it was not being exported to Chile because Chile wouldn’t accept the wastes fearing they would importing dengue fever via mosquito larvae that might stowaway in exported waste.
In January 2006, Sims Pacific metal conducted a feasibility study and reported on how to downsize and process scrap metal for export to Chile. They also donated Work Health and Safety equipment and a Harris Torch Gun to the Easter Island garage that had been designated to process and manage heavy metal wastes. It does not take long for old refrigerators and other white goods to form an ever-increasing pile of rusting metal, leaching heavy metals and other pollutants into the ground and water table.
In March 2009, the Head of the Inter-ministerial Coordination Department at the Office of the President of the Republic of Chile, Mr Ricardo Brodsky, contacted PAA' s CEO, Petra Campbell, requesting a report detailing recommendations for solid and liquid waste management on Easter Island. Mr Brodsky had read papers concerning threats to Easter Island’s drinking water supply and other pressing environmental issues written by Petra, in the American archaeological, Rapa Nui Journal. Easter Island has two landfills and a recycling station at Orito, which receives paper, cardboard, glass, tires, PET plastic bottles and electronic waste. Ricardo Brodsky advised our CEO that the government of Chile had made funds available to address the issue of the Orito landfill and other imminent environmental threats. Petra produced 'Options for Solid Waste Management on Easter Island’. This comprehensive report covered all aspects of the waste management problems facing the Island people (see Table below).
Petra was subsequently invited to represent the Municipality of Easter Island in negotiations and discussions with the Government of Chile. She was included in a high level delegation to visit the Island, including representatives from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Environment and Mr Brodsky from the Office of the President. Discussions focussed on the critical environmental issues on the island and the delegation visited the Orito recycling station and landfill, Hanga Hemu and the power station. Petra promoted environmentally safe products and technologies specifically appropriate for island situations. Following this first-hand experience of the problems faced by Easter Island, Brodsky announced numerous projects by the government of Chile, such as studying the remediation of Orito landfill and transforming it into a high density polyethylene resin-lined sanitary landfill, closing the open burning rubbish tip at Hanga Hemu, building a water waste treatment facility also at Hanga Hemu, launching a green waste composting program, and authorising and initiating the exportation of hazardous and recyclable wastes back to Chile.
Easter Island Waste Management Part 1
Easter Island Waste Management Part 2