2019 People of the Year: Marina Keil

The woman driving Samoa’s mission to clear out its waste said she simply feels passionate for the job. 

Marina Keil, who has been working in her own business to manage Samoa’s rubbish and in recent years has taken on leading the industry-wide efforts is the picture of the humble, get-down-to-business woman that knows what needs to be done.

In just one year, Ms. Keil and the Samoa Waste Recycling Management Association (S.W.R.M.A.) have led to the beginnings of a waste levy policy, organised to have waste oil shipped off shore and started a successful plastic bottle and aluminium can collection changing how people sort their own rubbish.

Success for the industry include Samoa Stationary and Books coordinating with Hewlett Packard to take printer waste off island, and the organisation being granted a plot of land in Tafaigata Landfill to organise the massive stockpiles of waste across the country.

It is the best Christmas gift they could have asked for, a whole year and half after they applied to use the land.

“It’s been a long process, but now we have somewhere we can take and stockpile waste, it will be a big year next year,” said Ms. Keil.

“E-waste, waste oil, tyres, plastic, all types of waste can be stored there.”

S.W.R.M.A have been partnering with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, which in October awarded Ms. Keil with two Environment Awards: one for her own company’s work, and one for the work of the association.

Ms. Keil believes one of the organisations biggest successes this year is the supermarket collection cages for recyclable bottles and cans. Outside nearly every supermarket and also a couple of hotels, two brightly painted cages and one wheelie bin are installed to encourage people to sort their waste.

One of the reasons she is so proud is because people in Government had told her the idea had been tested and failed before.

“Honestly, it makes such a difference when you put that garbage bin next to the recycling bin,” she said.

“Then people actually throw the trash inside it and it’s not mixed up with the bottles.”

Ms. Keil said the cages get full in just three weeks, a massive improvement from nearly six weeks in the first instance. 

It shows people are choosing to separate their bottles and aluminium cans, saving them up and bringing them to recycle when they go shopping.

“It’s baby steps, but we are hoping to extend the cages to involve restaurants and more hotels in the new year.”

As effective as the operation has been, it is still just a small dent in the overall contribution of plastic and cans to the landfill. Ms. Keil is under no illusions: this is a mammoth task.

“One cage has about 200 plastic bottles, and we have about ten cages out. So I doubt it is making a big difference at the landfill. If we make it more accessible then maybe there will be a big effect but right now, we’re only a little bit.”

She is optimistic about the future of Samoa’s relationship to waste, after years of burning tyres on front lawns and sending absolutely everything to the landfill to rot.

Electronic waste is being diverted to the three collectors who process it for export. Waste oil is still being collected, adding to a growing stockpile of over 400,000 litres being prepared for shipment to Fiji. 

Her own company, Waste Management Co. has just imported a small glass crusher to begin exploring options for recycling glass into sand and selling it on for construction and the like. Very few glass bottles actually get reused on the island – wine, spirits and imported beer bottles, for example, still go to landfill.

“Now we can actually try and see and put it through this machine and depending on how much volume we have we can find a project that goes well with it,” Ms. Keil said.

“There is sandblasting, using it for roads and sidewalks, making brick… it’s a substitute for sand.”

Ms. Keil has thought of every waste stream and is figuring out how to export it for value, or just get it off the island. Thanks to a partnership with the Regional Pacific Environment Programme and Swire Shipping, low value waste gets free freight to a port with a recycler, so companies in Samoa can justify collecting it and processing it.

Samoa’s biggest problem long term will be volume – the ultimate catch 22 of the waste industry. Right now, there is a massive stockpile of all sorts of waste, and there is money to be made from getting the right equipment on island and processing it for export.

It won’t take long for that stockpile to be exported, but it will take a very long time to build up that kind of export-worthy volume again. 

Potoi Peteli of One Scrap Metal has been collecting e-waste for four years and has barely made a dent in a container in order to export it and finally make some money from his efforts.

And while there are options out there to improve the value of waste on the island, like machines to pelletise plastic, justifying the cost of the machinery is hard when the volume of supply is so low.

“The last thing we want to go is go big, and then we run out of feedstock,” Ms. Keil said.

“Because of our population, we have a problem with volume which means we cannot go big unless we’re importing waste from the other islands. The only way forward for Samoa and its waste management is export.”

Part of the problem is that waste isn’t sorted across the island. But Ms. Keil can see that even if it was, and everybody diverted all their different kinds of waste to the right recyclers, there would still be a volume issue. 

“There is so much pile up because no one has ever done it (exported) before. So once we get a machine and we do it, then what happens to the machine after?”

But she knows whatever happens, Samoa will not be burdened by its waste problem forever. A younger generation of Samoan people is more attuned to the issue, especially when it comes to ensuring the oceans stay clean and the soil uncontaminated.

“When I was young, we were taught to sweep, pick up the rubbish and burn. But now I see a lot of changes, I see recycling improving, so I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” said Ms. Keil.

“The kids are more educated environmentally on taking care of Planet Earth, compared to back then.”

Once, Waste Management Co had to go out into the field and collect rubbish. But today, the team stay in the office and people bring waste to them.

“It’s going to improve. We just need to make a lot more noise about it.”

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