If you're missing the sound of geckos, listen to this radio jingle put together by Sean Toland's waste management team in Vanuatu. They are now seeking support for the next stage of the project.

Sean, a senior geo-environmental scientist in the Auckland office of engineering firm GHD Ltd, was based at the Luganville Municipal Office (LMC) on the island of Espiritu Santo from June 2013 to July 2014.

“The more people who know about the project the better,” he says. “We want to spread the word to people in the waste engineering industry who might have an interest in it. There's potential to develop another VSA assignment for it.”

Sean embarked on his assignment keen to put his technical skills to use in sustainable development. GHD has an ongoing partnership with VSA and the project to overhaul Luganville’s waste management was initially expected to last three-to-six months. He returned a year later, having helped set up a far more robust system.

He worked at LMC alongside VSA waste specialist volunteer Mary O’Reilly. He quickly realised that the assignment’s timeline and objectives - closing the town’s open dump site and opening an engineered landfill - were largely unrealistic in the short term.

He believed that if the old dump site was shut down and a sparkly new landfill opened without any transitional education and awareness, old ingrained habits would ensure the new site quickly became dysfunctional. The first step, he suggested, should be to get the existing waste collection service and infrastructure operating efficiently to minimum standards.

Project objectives were revised to include a robust public education campaign. Community consultation and a schools education programme were introduced, a waste management logo and mascot were designed and a ‘Luganville Waste Management’ Facebook page was set up. Waste management issues were also widely publicised in print and broadcast media.

The mascot, Tito the gecko, comes with a range of taglines that promote the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ message. Tito is an anagram of the Bislama word for rubbish – toti. His upbeat radio jingles feature the chirping of a common house gecko. Geckos are everywhere in Vanuatu so the chirping provides a trigger for people to think about waste management .

A key achievement was the employment of local woman Gina Tari Buletare, a highly capable waste management officer who continues the fight to improve Luganville’s waste management operations. She has been holding the fort since project volunteers completed their various assignments, and Sean and Mary are in regular contact with her.

Long-term, the most pressing objective is to close the current dump site and locate a new site for an engineered landfill that local people can easily maintain and operate. The Luganville site lies close to the end of the Santo Airport runway. The runway's planned extension will bring it closer to the dump and increase the risk of bird strike. Flights have already been temporarily suspended because of bird strike.

A lack of local technical expertise to close the current dump site and develop a new landfill site is a major obstacle. In addition, attracting funding from international donors is something entirely new to the project team.

Sean feels really lucky to have been involved in making positive changes to Luganville's waste management. A bonus was the support of local authorities. Many assignments can be difficult without their support but LMC trusted the team to manage the financial side of the waste operations themselves.

“If you ever get the chance to take on a VSA assignment, grab it with both hands,” Sean says. Now the team are looking for ways to take the project forward.

  • Any assistance from technical specialists is most welcome. Email Sean if you can assist.
  • Check out the Facebook site Luganville Waste Management for the latest news.
  • This story updates Mary O'Reilly and Gina Buletare's efforts to establish a waste recycling system in Luganville.