Published on 27th October 2014
Gina Tari Buletare’s day starts at 4am. She and her husband are both public servants, working in Luganville, Vanuatu, and their four kids aged three to eight, need setting up for the day.
Despite the early starts, Gina’s energy for her work is clear – for the last eight months, she’s been a Waste Management Officer for Luganville Municipal Council, first working alongside VSA volunteer Sean Toland, and now with volunteer Mary O’Reilly. In a short period of time, waste management in the region has seen a massive improvement, and they have yet more plans, some of which will require convincing a community to completely change its habits. Gina is determined: “It will work!” she insists.
Gina is in Wellington to attending the Waste Management Institute of New Zealand (WasteMINZ) annual conference, after Sean applied to VSA for funding to bring her over for her career development. It's her first trip to the capital, but as a young woman, she won a scholarship to study at Gisborne Girls' High School, then another to study Environmental management at Northland Polytechnic, after which she returned to Vanuatu and worked for eight years at an environmental NGO.
When Sean arrived in Luganville to work as a geotechnical/waste management adviser (landfill) in partnership with GHD, rubbish collection was irregular, and waste in the landfill was regularly burned. Gina says, “you could stand on the hill and see smoke everywhere.”
In just a little over a year, there have been radical changes: Sean recommended a stop to landfill burning, and the team with Mary has more recently instituted a fines system for people who burn rubbish at home, as burning plastics caused health and environmental problems. Recycling stations have been set up, and the town market now boasts a compost bin.
Importantly, the waste service now has its own budget line: previously, money needed came out of one Council pot, so if a rubbish truck needed repairs, often the funds were simply not available. Now, Gina says, they manage their own funds, so can keep the operation running smoothly, and there are now three trucks, up from one last year.
The next big project that Gina and Mary are working on is a prepaid rubbish bag collection scheme. Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital, has tried it, “but it didn’t work”, Gina says, and she and Mary have done a lot of work to understand why.
In Luganville, bags will be available through retailers in the town (in Port Vila, they were sold only through the Council) at 80 vatu (around $1) each. Gina’s working on making sure rubbish collectors are specialists – not just labourers chosen from a revolving pool – as it’s more efficient and, says Gina, “they’d be better at educating the community about waste.”
The scheme will begin in February next year, giving the team several months to continue their educational outreach to schools, tourism operators and the rest of the community. Convincing them to pay for a service that was previously free is the biggest hurdle but, says Gina, the message is starting to get through that the service isn’t covered by property taxes and there are significant health, environmental and economic reasons for ensuring the town is clean and tidy. Households will be given two free bags each, and a month’s grace before other bags will be refused.
Come to Luganville next year, Gina says, and the “Luganville red bags” will be cleaning up the town.