The production and consumption of plastic materials has experienced an exponential growth since the 1950s (C. Thompson, et al., 2014). This has mainly been due to factors such as the profitability of the plastic industry, the simple technology required for its production as well as the consumption patterns that increasingly support the use of plastic (Kapinga & Chung, 2020). Although plastics have economic benefits, unsustainable production and consumption patterns such as excessive single use plastics, unnecessarily packaging products that are mismanaged or mishandled has caused plastic to become one of the most significant environmental threats we face today (Molloy, Varkey, & R. Walker, 2022). Furthermore, inadequate waste management systems, and leakage of macro and micro plastics into the environment including oceans can cause plastic pollution, or more specifically marine plastic pollution (Bergmann, Gutow, & Klages, 2015). The harmful effects of plastic waste and pollution on the environment, as well as in economic and social aspects has forced governments to take various measures to either reduce the use of plastics or dispose of the material more effectively.
Plastic waste can also be linked to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), mainly SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and SDG 14 (Life Below Water). It was also a main topic of the INTOSAI WGEA for the period 2020 – 2022. Despite the significance of the topic, it can be observed that audits focusing on plastic waste are scarce compared to audits on other waste concerns such as solid waste management. In order to bridge this gap, and encourage Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) to develop audits focusing on plastic waste, this article aims to explore the ways in which SAIs can ensure government accountability in implementing effective reduction and disposal measures of plastic waste, and also identify how SAIs can contribute to tackling the plastic waste problem, using the Maldives as an illustrative example.2. Maldives and Plastic Waste 2.1 Country overview
The Maldives is a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) located in South Asia on the Indian Ocean, with the territory being consisted of over 98% ocean. The country is comprised of 1,190 islands in a chain of 26 coral atolls. Of these islands, only 188 islands are inhabited and 180 islands are designated as tourist resorts (Nashfa, 2016). A population of 557,426 is dispersed unevenly across the 17 administrative atolls and 4 cities (National Bureau of Statistics, United Nations Population Fund, 2017). A majority of the total population lives in the capital city of Male’, whereas 70% of inhabited islands have a population less than 1000 residents (Malatesta, di Friedberg, Pecorelli, Di Pietro, & Cajiao, 2015). Hence the islands of Maldives are often classified into 4 categories (Malatesta, di Friedberg, Pecorelli, Di Pietro, & Cajiao, 2015):
- Islands inhabited by local populations; often with low population density
- Urban settlements; where population density is high
- Islands used exclusively as tourist resorts
- Uninhabited islands
Similar to other SIDS, Maldives also relies heavily on tourism as a source of income (Kapmeier & Gonçalves, 2018). It represents the largest sector in the Maldivian economy, contributing to roughly more than 30% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Nashfa, 2016), and is the biggest employer in the tertiary sector (Kapmeier & Gonçalves, 2018). However, as (Mateu-Sbert, Ricci-Cabello, Villalonga-Olives, & Cabeza-Irigoyen, 2013) states, “..While tourism helps Small Island Developing States (SIDS) sustain employment and income for their citizens, it also consumes resources and degrades the environment”
As a country that relies on its environment for a significant portion of its economy, reducing the impacts of plastic waste on our environment and proper waste management practices are an urgent need. Studies have specifically shown that the bioaccumulation of micro-plastics along the beaches and shallow reef flat environment is a serious concern for the ecosystem as well as the local community relying on the marine resources (B. Patti, K. Fobert, E. Reeves, & da Silva, 2020). B. Patti, K. Fobert, E. Reeves, & da Silva (2020) states that “without a significant increase in waste reduction and rapid improvements to waste management, small island communities will continue to generate high levels of micro plastic pollution in marine sedimentary environments, with potential to negatively impact the health of the eco system, marine organisms, and local island communities.”
As a result of the significantly varied population density across the country, as well as the diversity of industry across the 4 categories of islands, plastic pollution and waste management needs challenges also significantly varies in the Maldives (Karasik, 2022).2.2 Plastic waste generation
The Maldives generates about 43 tonnes of plastic waste per year, which constitutes approximately 12% of the total waste produced in the country (Karasik, 2022). Plastic and rubber also made up 4% of total imports to the country in the year 2018, and from the imported sources of plastic, plastic sacks and bags are some of the most commonly used in daily consumption (Maldives Ocean Plastics Alliance; NIG Capital;, 2021).
It is also observed that tourist resorts generate the most waste per capita (3.5 kg per capita), followed by waste generation in Male’ the capital island (1.7 kg per capita), and the lowest being waste generation for outer atolls (0.8 kg per capita) (Ministry of Environment and Energy, 2015).
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are a significant source of plastic consumption in the Maldives. More than 57% of the households in the Maldives consume mineral water in PET bottles. This is mainly due to the fact that 86% of the population prefers mineralized bottle water as a safe source of drinking water, over that provided by the public utility. Although households in outer islands traditionally relied on ground water and rainwater for drinking purposes, growing populations present challenges to continue relying on these sources of drinking water (Maldives Ocean Plastics Alliance; NIG Capital;, 2021). In order to combat the supply challenges faced in drinking water, the government has included targets to establish water production facilities primarily desalination supplemented with rainwater including island-wide networks with household metered connections. The government’s National Strategic Plan (NSAP) (2019) also acknowledges the challenge in PET bottles as under the policy of phasing out single-use plastics there are proposed actions on conducting public awareness campaign to increase confidence and use in piped water from the aforementioned systems and to introduce water coolers in public spaces with the aim of phasing out plastic bottles.2.3 Waste management practices, policies and legal frameworks
In order to identify main risk areas, auditors first need to identify the current practices surrounding the subject matter, as well as the integration of plastic waste into national strategies and plans. We will then further look at the main legislative frameworks and policies.
Waste generated in the Greater Male’ Region is transported to the island Thilafushi, an artificial landfill where 500 tons of rubbish is dumped every day (M.W. Stevens & Froman, 2019). Waste segregation was not practiced until June 2022 following an amendment to the Waste Management Regulation in efforts by the government to improve the proper handling of waste at the household and community levels. Although the waste management of other inhabited islands is the responsibility of the local island councils, open burning of waste at low temperatures in sites along shorelines are often practiced in these islands as well. This is due to the lack of proper infrastructure measures such as waste management centres and machinery (Naufal, 2022). Waste management on resorts are more advanced and are focused on minimizing, segregating, and making compost. Each resort is required by law to have an incinerator for leaves, paper, packaging and cardboard (Colombo, et al., 2014).
Parley for the Oceans is an environmental organization that collects plastic waste from Maldives and ships it to companies to be used in recycled plastic products. However, a 2009 study by JICA found that total recyclable waste constituted only 20% of the total waste generated of which PET comprised of only 0.14% (Nashfa, 2016). Studies also show that the plastic waste recycling rates in the South Asian Region are significantly below the world average of 20%, mainly due to the underdevelopment of plastic recycling technologies and infrastructure in the region (Kapinga & Chung, 2020). This further indicates a need for more robust waste management policies, as well as the case for waste reduction in Maldives.
The National Strategic Action Plan (NSAP) of the Maldives for the years 2019 – 2023 developed by the current administration, includes certain milestones the government aims to achieve. Notably, to minimize the open burning of waste by 50% in all inhabited islands and to phase out the importation, production and use of single use plastics in the country by 2023. Following this, the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology (MoECCT), developed a Single Use Plastics Phase-out Plan for the period 2020 – 2023. Under this plan, the import and production of certain SUPs have been banned by a Presidential Decree in 2021.
The primary document that guides waste management in the Maldives is the National Waste Management Policy formulated in 2015 by the Ministry of Environment and Energy (now Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology), and the main legislative framework regarding waste management is the Waste Management Regulation (2013).3. Developing Audit Objectives and Questions
After obtaining a thorough understanding of the national circumstances surrounding plastic waste in the region, as well as the areas that pose key risks in the plastic waste generation, management and disposal cycle, auditors can proceed to develop audit objectives which will define the focus of the audit. Based on these audit objectives, audit questions can then be generated which can further detail the purpose of the audit and be utilized to create the overall Audit Design Matrix (ADM).
Below are two potential audit objectives, along with possible audit questions around which auditors can design an audit of plastic waste. These audit objectives could be the aim of exclusive and individual audits or they could be included as the objectives for one large audit.Audit Objective 1: Identifying and assessing the policy measures and institutional arrangements surrounding plastic waste management
- Does the government have an effective legal framework or national policy in place to manage plastic waste?
- Were the relevant stakeholders input acquired in formulating the policies and frameworks?
- Were the policies developed with consideration to the related SDGs and their achievement (SDG 11, 12 and 14)?
- Are the roles and responsibilities of the involved entities clearly defined?
- Were the available resources (financial and human resources) considered in developing the policies and regulations?
- Is there effective collaboration across the stakeholders involved in formulating the policies?
- Are there any instances of fragmentation, overlap and duplication across the policies?
- To what extent has the government been able to implement the policies and plans regarding plastic waste management?
- Does the implementation of the policies and plans effectively manage or reduce the environmental impacts caused due to plastic waste?
- Are the implementation of the policies and plans contributing towards the achievement of the SDGs 11, 12 and 14?
- Are the current policies financially and operationally sustainable in the long term?
Reflecting on the current waste management landscape in the Maldives, it can be seen that the establishment and proper implementation of effective mechanisms are urgently required to solve the plastic waste management issues in the country. SAIs can aid governments by monitoring the current conditions of the country in achieving their targets towards tackling plastic waste and provide recommendations by identifying lacking areas.References
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