Rural Fiji – labour of love

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Sunrise over Koronivia

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Sunrise Koronivia

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Harvesting rice

Sometimes I know that I may sound negative with some of the posts I put up, complaining about or documenting rubbish and PET bottles, burning plastic fires and so on.

Part of the reason I am so saddened by it all, is that I love Fiji so much.  I have really come to love rural life – I never thought I would.  I am a beach girl by nature – the thought of not being able to access the ocean normally terrifies me – really.  I remember years ago, I had the opportunity to move to Botswana.  I am ashamed to admit that the reason that I held in my

“secret heart” and not one of the many reasons I ever voiced, was that I could not do it, as after looking on the map, I realized that Botswana was landlocked!

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Rice harvesting, Fiji

Fiji is a nation of islands,

hundreds and hundreds of islands – and I live on the largest one.  I am not that far from the sea really, and see it every time I take the bus to Suva but no one really swims in the sea here.  If they do, they often swim fully clothed for modesty and cultural reasons, and there are no surf beaches on this side of the island at all (or in fact any place in Fiji that I have been to).  Note to self – must visit surf side sometime.  Even though we live on an island (a big one), we live in a rural setting.  I have once seen some people swimming in Suva near the bowling club, which was wierd.  The water is so filthy that the sand is black and the water is often blackish grey also.  There were rusty cans and

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Rice paddy, Fiji

plastic bottles everywhere, but a mother watched as her two young kids had a ball in the water.  The water in Suva Harbour is so contaminated, and it is widely documented and known, but many people here don’t read the paper, so I guess how are they to know.  I have also seen people daily catching fish in Nubukalou Creek in Suva and in the Harbour.  Maybe they are not aware?

toxic creek

 

Of particular concern is Nubukalou Creek which drains a major area of the city that is without sewerage. The National State of the Environment Report states that “with faecal coliform levels thousands of times above an acceptable level it should be regarded as a sewer. The continued sale of fish along the creek bank, with the consequent use of its water for washing them, is a serious health hazard.” Source: http://www.unescap.org/drpad/publication/integra/volume2/fiji/2fj02c03.htm

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Cattle, Fiji

Anyway, enough about Suva…..What has made me love it here in Rural Fiji so much I often ask myself?  Is it the sunrise over the coconut trees – some days red, some days golden?  Is it the sight of a hawk flying low (a sign that bad weather is coming)?  To me, when I think of Fiji, I don’t think about beaches at all, I think of the country side.  I think of the beautiful rural places and people.  Most of Fiji is rural and people live off the land.

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Mother and son take a walk in the morning mist

Is it the peace and quiet? Is it that every where you look it is green and whatever you put in the ground grows like wildfire?

It is all of those things, but mainly it is the people.  Life here has a different pace.  A friend of a friend is here in Fiji for a week at the moment and she has kindly brought some donations from home.  I am so looking forward to meeting her, and will travel by bus tomorrow to the Coral Coast to collect the donations, and have a conversation.  A week goes so fast here, not because you fit a million things in, like in the developed world, but because you don’t!  I started wondering how I would ever find the time meet with them, and that if I don’t do it tomorrow, soon the week will be gone, and so will they.

The pace of life is often determined by the task at hand, and the tools available.  My task right now is to write this blog – I have a working computer in my home – not many people

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Farm Road Fiji

here have that.  I have a working internet connection – also not common.  Once I hit publish, the job is done, and all my typos and immature thoughts will be out there for the world to see.

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Grey herons stalk the rice paddies waiting for fingerlings

Here, much is done by hand.  Many hands, over long hours.  Yesterday, I needed some milk powder, so I took a walk down the farm road about a kilometer to my friend Sanila who owns a small shop in Koronivia.  I could have gone by bus to the nearest supermarket which would have taken about 10 minutes, but I felt like a chat and seeing a friendly face.  So, I got my cloth shopping bag (also an oddity here as this is still plastic world where service means double bagging!) and my camera and took a walk.  On the way, in the field, some men were harvesting rice from a research paddock.  They were doing it all by hand.  Cutting each bundle, walking it over to a pile, and then the piles would eventually be put into a tiny threshing machine and then the rice bagged into 50kg bags.  After that, the rice straw will then be carried to a big pile.  Sometimes we use the rice straw on the garden and it is a great weed mat.

I stopped for a chat and asked if I could take their photo for my website.  They happily agreed, posed, and then went on with their work – all day. Each of the men probably earned between $10 and $20 for the day’s work.  That is not much, but bread is 75 cents a loaf so the money they made (less their bus fare) will pay for the family meal.

A lot of work here is manual, and people still have time for a chat.  Even though I sometimes get lonely, I am never really alone as everyone I meet is keen to talk, and share and find out about each other.

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Working bullocks, Fiji

Ploughing is often done by a team or working bullocks, or a horse.  Cassava, dalo, corn, ochra (bindi), bele, bananas, coconuts, limes, everything seems to be harvested by hand.  Milking is often also still done by hand.  And all these tasks are seemingly, to my western eyes, done with pride, love, laughter and happiness, and always in groups.

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Teenagers enjoy juice after working together clearing our yard

It is the love, laughter, togetherness and conversation that has made me love rural Fiji.  Everyone asks us to come to the village for holidays, and they mean it.

There is a calmness to Fiji rural life that I find comforting.

44 million a year in Fiji – PET bottles are recyclable – but only if people recycle them!

I am doing some research on Fiji Water, and American owned brand, operating in Fiji.

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Fiji Water bottle floats in Suva

A bit of history here.  http://superculturereport.wordpress.com/fiji-water/

Some reports state that more than half of Fijians do not have access to clean drinking water.  There is so much information (not much of it very encouraging).  Fiji Water extracts at least 3.5million liters of water a month from its source in Fiji (only companies that extract that volume are subject to the tax introduced in 2010 which caused Fiji Water to close its plant for a day before reopening the next morning), with over 95% of it apparently being exported to its major markets USA and Australia.   Plastic “blanks” or pellets are imported to Fiji, and then filled at the plant using blow fill technology.  The only commitment that Fiji Water has to recycling here in Fiji that I have found is this:

Coca Cola Amatil Fiji will supply (if asked) large bags that hold approximately 60kg of recyclable plastic bottles.  Once the bags are filled, you can call them and they will collect the bags and pay 75 Fijian Cents per kg for the plastic.  They will take all their own brands (which are numerous) plus Fiji Water bottles.   To get the bags delivered to any rural communities or any of the islands (110 of Fiji’s 332 islands are inhabited), is not easy.  I suggested to Coca Cola Amatil that they could simply drop off the bags with the regular delivery of their product (the Coca Cola trucks also apparently deliver the Fiji Water to the resorts and other outlets), but they do not want to do that as they claim that people put “all kinds of rubbish” in the bags such as “dead dogs”.

There are no public place recycling bins that I have seen, and no regular collection of recycling.  PET bottles are everywhere in open dumps and on the roadside, creeks, rivers and farms.  Many communities do not have any kind of garbage collection at all.

Fiji Water told me that they have a joint initiative with Coca Cola to recycle in Fiji.  If the above is it, then it is not adequate.  As there is no formal recycling program in Fiji, most plastics and PET bottles end up either burned, or in landfill.  The dumps in Fiji are mostly near the mangroves and a cause of great concern to local authorities here.

Pictures and images of part of the problem here.

Hazardous Waste in the Pacific http://www.alphabetics.info/international/2013/03/18/hazardous-waste-in-the-pacific-islands/

The Department of Environment reported:

Fiji like all other Small Island Developing States in the Pacific region recognizes that waste management is the single most pressing issue that needs immediate action. It is recognized as a major concern with the potential to cause negative impacts on our national development activities including public health, the environment, food security, tourism and trade.

Solid Waste at the moment is either being thrown in the open dumpsites, illegally disposed of in the sea or on unused land, in the streets or being burnt in piles in the backyard. Burning of municipal waste is also quite common despite and towns and cities have been continuously exposed to destructive effects such as carcinogenic toxins from burning and impacts of poor waste management.

Plastic Bags

The growing number of plastic bags is one of the major environmental pollutants and of key concern in Fiji, as it takes longer time to degrade. Plastic pollution is quite common in public areas. In 1994 SPREP carried out a waste audit with 5 households in Suva for a week and found 7% of the waste was made up of plastics.

PET Bottles

In the year 2003 from January to December, the total influx of PET bottles in Fiji was recorded around 44 million which includes 1.7 million of imports and 42 million PET bottles being produced locally. (Note that the production 5 (sic) of PET bottles serves to mean the bottles that are blown up locally using imported pellets).

Industrial or Trade Wastes

Considerable amounts of solid wastes are produced by industries and disposed of at municipal dumps.

Source: http://www.uncrd.or.jp/env/3r_02/presentations/BG4/4-1FijiCountryReportKL.pdf

Coming to Fiji and making a difference – radio interview and what you can do

Last Friday, I had the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed on Australian Radio 4BC Brisbane by Catherine McGeorge and Chris Adams.  Catherine spent time yachting around the Pacific, and witnessed some of the pollution that is also threatening Fiji in the next 20 years if we don’t think about what to do with our plastics.  We can all help to reverse the trend.  The mp3 file of the interview is available at

What, you may ask, can I do if I don’t live in Fiji?  There are so many things we can do if we have a spare day.

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Boys on the ferry from Suva to Savusavu

When you fly in to Fiji – ask your airline what they do with the plastic bottles they use in-flight, and let me know.

When you stay at a hotel or resort, ask them for some garbage bags for when you go walk-about, so that you can collect some plastic bottles and take them back to the hotel for recycling.

When you come to Fiji, you can spend a day replanting coral on the reef (coral planting material available, or I can hook you up if you are not sure where to start).

Spend half a day replanting mangrove seedlings (again, readily available and I can hook you up, as many of the resorts have their own marine biologists).

Volunteer a day or so to go to the local primary school and do a bit of a spruce up or some gardening – you will be welcomed with open arms  – or…. I can hook you up.

Let me know when you are coming to Fiji and do a village stay and volunteer a bit while you are here and having fun – you can stay in the village or just go for a visit, and your only costs will be your air travel.  Ask me and I can arrange it all – pitch in a bit like in a normal family, and bring a few pairs of thongs or flip flops, some fishing line and hooks and some rugby balls and ball pumps and your stay is covered!  maybe some solar garden lights and you will be remembered for ever!

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Dom and Savenaca scrape coconuts to make fresh coconut milk (lolo)

You will learn to fish, cook Fijian food, drink yaqona (Kava), make fresh coconut milk, cook a lovo (like a hungi), weave coconut baskets, and voivoi mats, and become part of a new family.

Suva’s Iconic Past being restored – but what about the rubbish?

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The old Grand Pacific Hotel, opposite Albert Park and the Government Buildings, now undergoing restoration, and due to re-open in 2014.

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Lovers look on as a fridge bobs in Suva Harbour in downtown Suva

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Daily view of rubbish on the beach in Downtown Suva

 

Recently there was an article in the newspaper here in Fiji about a wonderful project to restore the old iconic buildings and gardens in Downtown Suva (for online copy of the article by Graham Davis, click here).  This is a great project, but my concern is – once the work is done, and locals and tourists come to the area, if they look up they will see the beauty of “Old Suva”, currently a faded beauty, and the glory of Suva Harbour, if they look down, they will see hundreds of polystyrene lunch containers that say “Bula” (which means Hello or Welcome) or “Fiji”, co-mingled with plastic drink bottles, aluminum cans, tyres, backpacks and allmanner of other rubbish all along the beach and the sea wall promenade.  Recently I saw a fridge floating about two meters from shore in Suva Harbour outside the Fish Market.  One idea in my response below:

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Polystyrene lunch container “Bula” floats in Suva Harbour outside the Suva City Council Offices

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The Peace Park on Suva Harbour

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Disused fountain in Thurston Gardens, near the Fiji Museum

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The sea wall promenade near the Suva City Council Offices, with a seaplane parked at the Holiday Inn, and the old Grand Pacific Hotel in the background.

I read your article with interest in the paper recently. While it is wonderful news that there are moves to restore the Government Buildings, the old Grand Pacific Hotel and the strip along the sea wall, I wonder if any of the supporters of this project have recently taken a walk along the sea wall? I do not have a car here in Fiji, so I walk or ride the bus. From that vantage point, on any and every day of the week, you can see recyclables, and rubbish by the tonne along the walkway and small beaches that dot the sea wall. Notably, it seems that the majority of garbage dumped on the nature strips and beaches seems to be outside where the Government employees take their lunch. If you look at the beach outside FIRCA, the beach outside the Suva City Council Buildings, and the beach outside the Government Office Tower, you will see the remnants of daily lunches. It is a strange twist of fate that many of the polystyrene “lunch packs” that are used at almost every take away shop say “Bula” or “Fiji”. This is quite embarrassing really. There are also no recycling bins at all that I have seen either along the sea wall, or in Suva City, or anywhere else. Recycling bins must be a priority for those in authority, as there are approximately 44 million PET plastic drink bottles in Fiji every year (that figure though was from 2003). What use the mantra of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle if there are no public place recycling bins. Coca Cola Amatil and Fiji Water have a joint program where they will collect the bottles and pay per kilogram, plus all aluminum cans. Surely Suva City Council could arrange this, and if they need assistance, I am happy to facilitate.
Could part of the cause of the problem be that much of the recyclables and garbage is not visible if traveling by car, and that many in authority have a driver and a vehicle?
Part of the solution could be a “plain clothes Friday” for all government and council administrative staff – a lunch time barbeque could be provided on the beach, and a weekly show of civic duty to pick up one’s own lunch rubbish could be exhibited. Recently we did a

clean up on a 5km stretch of a rural dirt road in Koronivia, and collected more than 1,200 bags of rubbish and recycling.
Cleaning up sporadically is not a solution, and too often every article in the paper about clean ups mentions this or that community group, but does not mention or tally WHAT was collected. Once we learn that the rubbish needs to be tallied,and the results published, then maybe we

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Thurston Gardens, Suva

will get some action. Fiji is abundant in beauty and resources, and could be a leader in the Pacific if we learn how to deal with recycling, and fast!
Recycling bins can even be made from the plastic bottles, so very little expenditure is needed. I am being contacted by communities across Fiji who want to recycle, and just need someone to help them to get it organized. If you or your readers wish to be involved, please feel free to contact me.

Could one simple idea help solve the problem of how to get recycling going in Fiji?

 

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Bins made out of PET bottles

Could this one simple idea be part of the solution to community education and a call to action for recycling of PET bottles and aluminum cans in Fiji?  Picture Source: http://www.designsclue.com/15-best-ideas-of-how-to-recycle-plastic-bottles/

The below photos are all taken in Suva City Fiji, Levuka (Ovalau Island, Fiji), Samabula (Suva City), Nakasi (on the Suva Nausori corridor), Nausori, Rewa River bank at Manoca Estates Nausori.  Even in the tranquil looking photographs, see if you can spot the floating PET bottles.  If you drive by, or stand on the river bank of the Rewa River, Nausori, which flows directly into Suva Harbour at Laucala Bay, you may not be aware of what lurks every 5 meters down the river bank.  Take a look over the edge, and you will see dump site after dump site of rubbish, PET bottles, recycling, cardboard, car parts, washing machines, tyres, fans, daipers.  All of this is regularly set alight (normally on Friday afternoons), or if heavy rains come, it is washed into the sea.  As the Rewa Delta is prone to flooding, at least once a year, a great proportion of this is washed into the ocean.

 

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Koronivia Road, Fiji

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Koronivia Road, Fiji, the large bag is the recycling bag provided by Coca Cola Amatil in partnership with Fiji Water – the only concession to recycling here. I had to get a taxi which cost $40 to collect the bag myself as a few weeks ago, Coca Cola would not drop them off anywhere.

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Makoi, near Hanson’s Supermarket, Nasinu, Fiji

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The alleyway between the Chinese restaurant and the Immanuel Christian Fellowship Church, Nabua, Suva City, Fiji

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Suva City, the sea wall near the Holiday Inn.

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The beach outside the Suva City Council Offices, Suva Fiji

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Daily Skip bin, Suva City Markets, Fiji

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The beach outside the Presidential Palace and Fiji Inland Revenue and Customs Authority Building, Queen Elizabeth Drive, Suva City

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The beach opposite the Suva City Council Buildings and Sakuna Park (near McDonalds), downtown Suva City, Fiji

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My location, Koronivia, Fiji

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Fire burning rubbish in downtown Suva, on the sea wall area between Suva City Library and the Holiday Inn.

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The beach in downtown Suva City opposite the Government Office Tower

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Street bottle collector, Muhammad Ali, with his bags of PET bottles that he salvages from rubbish bins outside the Suva City Council Offices, the Government Towers, and the rubbish bins of Suva City. He walks miles to take these bottles back to the Coca Cola Amatil factory for $1FJD per kg, or washes them at the Mobil service station on Victoria Pde, and sells them to the juice sellers at Suva City Market.

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Polystyrene lunch packs and plastic bags in downtown Suva City, by the sea wall near Tiko’s floating restaurant. Every one of the white polystyrene packs say “Bula” or “Fiji” so if you see one washed up on your beach you know where it is from. Maybe they should change the words to “From Fiji with love”

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MH Supermarket, Nakasi, Fiji. Note the small red bucket near the door that serves as the only bin.

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Rubbish at the bus stop, Nakasi, Fiji

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Rubbish and recyclables in the drain at the bus stop, Nakasi, Fiji

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Fiji Water bottle floats quietly towards the sea, downtown Suva, Terry Walk, Nubukalau Creek outside MHCC department store.

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Garbage bags full of daipers and PET bottles dumped in Koronivia Creek at the Fiji National University, Koronivia Road, Fiji

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Contents of 10 garbage bags of rubbish dumped in Koronivia Creek, Fiji National University, Koronivia, Fiji

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Rubbish Koronivia Road, Fiji

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Household rubbish dumped on Kings Road, between Nakasi and Nausori, near Koronivia Research Station, and Fiji National University Farms.

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Plastic computer monitor disintegrates slowly in creek at Fiji National University Farm, Koronivia, Fiji

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Plastics mixed with household rubbish, found in creek, Koronivia Research Station Farm, Fiji

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Rubbish dumped over the bridge, downtown Suva, outside the fish market on Nubukalau creek.

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Plastic MH supermarket bag floating in Suva Harbour

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Coke bottles float in Suva Harbour, downtown Suva City outside Tiko’s floating restaurant

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Small boat moored near Tiko’s floating restaurant, downtown Suva City, with Coke bottle

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Plastic Coke bottle Suva Harbour

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Rubbish on beach in Suva City, opposite Sakuna Park and McDonalds

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Close up of rubbish and recyclables on beach in Suva City, opposite Sakuna Park

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Rubbish and recyclables on beach daily opposite Government Office Tower and Suva City Council Buildings, Suva City, Suva Harbour. Tiko’s restaurant floats in the background.

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Tyres and assorted rubbish and recyclables on beach in Suva City, opposite Government Buildings

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Private rubbish dump, Koronivia Road, Fiji. Once a week, the dump is set on fire to burn rubbish, daipers, plastics, glass, recyclables. The smell of burning plastics is overwhelming.

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Recyclable PET bottles flattened by vehicles at the junction of Kings Road and Koronivia Road, Fiji

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Rubbish and PET plastic bottles on the beach right outside the fence to the pool at the Holiday Inn, downtown central Suva City. The Suva City Council Office is also next door.

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Rubbish and plastic bottles dumped in Koronivia Creek, Fiji

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Rubbish, plastics, PET bottles, at Samabula, outside BSP bank, Fiji, near Suva City

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Street person sleeping in doorway of shops near BSP bank, Samabula, Suva City. At least he has recycled bottles and packaging.

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One of two full trucks that took away 10 tonnes of rubbish from a 5km stretch of rural road from Koronivia to Lokia, Fiji, collected in one morning by 300 volunteers.

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Council workers and residents with the big recycling bag – the only avenue for recycling for a very limited number of Fijians.

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Rubbish, PET bottles, recyclables, plastics, collect on the roadside between Nausori and Suva (this photo in Koronivia on Kings Road at FNU research farm) after being thrown from buses and cars.

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Large bags of rubbish and plastics are regularly dumped in creeks and drains, Koronivia, Fiji

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Rubbish and plastics awaiting collection to go to landfill near the beach at Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji. The stand is to try and keep dogs away. Children swim in the sea in the background.

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Rubbish, plastics, tyres wash up on the beach at Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji

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Plastic PET bottles, aluminum cans, and other rubbish is thrown into the sea at Natovi Landing, Viti Levu, Fiji. This is the place where you can get the boat from Suva to Savusavu on Vanua Levu, and Levuka, on Ovalau. There is a canteen at the landing (jetty) but no bins.

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Rubbish, plastics, PET, cans collect along the roadside everywhere. Photo taken on the road between Nausori and Bau landing (Viti Levu), rural Fiji.

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Government ship yards, Suva City, Suva Harbour, Fiji

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Rubbish, PET bottles dumped in Nausori, Manoca Estates, at the edge of the Rewa River

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Opposite the Mobil service station, Nausori, Fiji, Rewa River. Rubbish, plastics, PET bottles are dumped daily and burned as part of business practice.

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Another rubbish dump for local businesses and households on the edge of the Rewa River, Nausori, Fiji. These rubbish dumps are all along the river, spaced out by about only 5 or 10 metres.

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Another rubbish dump, Rewa River, Nausori, Fiji

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Yet another rubbish dump, banks of the Rewa River, Nausori, Fiji

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Five meters further down, another rubbish dump on the banks of the Rewa River, Nausori, Fiji

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The view from the same spot, Manoca Estates, Nausori, Fiji, on the banks of the Rewa River, if you don’t look over the side. Maybe that is why people don’t know! You can’t see the rubbish from a car or bus. Most government employees have a staff driver, and they travel in SUVs.

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And again, the next rubbish dump, Rewa River

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And another!

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And another!

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The same private rubbish dump pictured above, across the road from my home, Koronivia Fiji. This rubbish has collected since 8th June when it was cleared during the clean up. It is regularly set on fire. It contains many many PET bottles, glass bottles, aluminum cans, as well as daipers, rotting food and cardboard. This was taken yesterday 8 July. It burned for many hours and the smoke haze could be seen for kilometers. The smell is choking. This dump is directly opposite the shop that has a recycling bag, and is used by only two families.

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Rubbish that has accumulated from two families in Koronivia Fiji being set on fire last night, 8 July. All the rubbish has accumulated in one month. It contains plastics, PET, aluminum cans, daipers, cardboard, food waste. This is the only option for many people in Fiji. There is no rubbish collection here, and even though there is a recycling bag for these families, right at their house, they are not motivated enough to use it. People here do not see the benefit of separating rubbish.