24 Sep 2019 Story Chemicals & waste

Kiribati to carry out considerable efforts in sound management of chemicals and waste

Kiribati’s ocean waters are amongst the most productive and least polluted on earth. The people of Kiribati have always utilized their natural resources and the marine environment sustains them; they depend on it for food, transport, traditional and cultural practices, and economic opportunities. An estimated 80 per cent of the population continues to depend primarily on these resources for their livelihoods and income generation. Economic development that has propelled the transition from a traditional subsistence lifestyle to a contemporary market-based economy has brought key environmental challenges.

The small island developing state and least developed country has increased its chemicals use, which predominantly come from imports rather than national production. Harm to the environment and to human health has been found, notably in terms of obsolete pharmaceutical waste (known as environmentally-persistent pharmaceutical pollutants) and school chemicals.

In 2006, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme coordinated the repacking of expired pharmaceutical drugs (photo 1) and national capacity trainings for school hazardous chemicals management  (photo 2).   

Expired pharmaceutical drugs repacked
Neutralizing and stabilizing identifiable disused school chemicals.

Furthermore, Kiribati does not have access to complete information about the production, import, transport, use, storage and disposal of chemicals in the country. Institutional strengthening is therefore needed to establish a comprehensive chemicals and waste management strategy across all sectors that includes all relevant stakeholders.

Through the project under the Chemicals and Waste Management Programme, also known as the Special Programme, a national information-sharing system will be developed to strengthen Kiribati’s institutional capacity to undertake regular data collection and analysis, and establish a central repository for data. This repository will enhance the current Environment Database—still a work in progress at the Environment Conservation Division, Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Agricultural Development—and provide the public with access to data to spur national actions toward the sound management of chemicals and waste at national and island levels.

The project will also aim to enhance outreach and raise awareness on the safe handling of chemicals and waste, specifically, through the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. Training will be provided to school teachers and students about the local disposal of obsolete laboratory chemicals, and everyday products used in school.  

Given the predominance of imported chemicals and chemical products in Kiribati, it is also important that customs and other law enforcements agencies, for example the police, identify hazardous chemicals. They too will be trained on labelling of chemicals, safe handling and prevention of illegal trafficking.

Currently, Kiribati does not process waste items or undertake recycling locally. Waste materials are shipped from the islands for recycling through a local company. Waste recycling includes aluminium, steel (bulk), car batteries, e-waste, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles.

Through the project funded by the Chemicals and Waste Management Programme, local recycling companies will be encouraged to recycle in Kiribati and adopt bring-back schemes including the adoption of the 3Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—as well as return, to minimize waste. As of now, only one local company is involved in waste recycling.

Kaoki Maange Recycling Facility, Betio.

Kiribati is undergoing a process which consolidates the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into its national plans, with the Government of Kiribati recognizing the environment as one of the three pillars of sustainable development. Kiribati has incorporated chemicals and waste management issues into its Integrated Environment Policy. This will provide a strengthened basis and enabling environment not only for implementing the provisions of the Basel, Stockholm and Minamata conventions and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management into the national agenda but also in achieving the government’s long-term development blueprint known as Kiribati vision 2016-2036 or KV20. The KV20 consists of strategic goals for 20 years and anchors on four key pillars: wealth, peace and security, infrastructure development and governance. Fisheries and tourism are the two main focus areas to achieve Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 hence chemicals and waste management is an integral whole of the KV20.

The coordination of the project will be in the hands of several national ministries, including the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, the Ministry of Employment, and Human Resource Development, the private sector and civil society. (Photo 5)


“As Secretary for Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Agricultural Development and also the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management’s national focal point, I wish to acknowledge the ongoing technical support provided by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research in particular the Global Environment Facility and the UN Environment Programme’s Special Programme for the financial support which will enhance Kiribati institutional capacity for the national implementation of the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management.” – Taare Aukitino


For further information please contact the Special Programme Secretariat at [email protected]