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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Challenges to Plastic Up-Cycling in Small Island Communities: A Palauan Tale


Plastics in the marine environment are a growing environmental threat with mounting research on impacts, sources and management strategies. Small island communities are subject to greater threats because of dual inputs of marine plastics via ocean currents and locally used plastics, with a heavy reliance on imported packaged goods. The resulting plastic buildup on islands is often combined with a lack of infrastructure and remoteness, leaving few options for management. However, a number of existing technologies and companies are built upon reusing plastic waste as a resource to create a product of greater value, a concept commonly known as “up-cycling.” Utilizing technologies on islands for plastic up-cycling or creating incentives to send them off to other nations for reuse is a theoretically beneficial method to both manage and economically incentivize unwanted marine and local plastics. Yet, up-cycling is often underutilized. By examining Palau as a case study, a nation that experiences the common impacts of plastic but successfully recycles 50 percent of the on-island waste, this report uncovers the primary challenges to up-cycling and plastic management to Palau and similarly structured island nations. Challenges can be broken down into the 5 broad categories of geography, society, government, economy, and technology. Through uncovering primary challenges in a nation that is already taking positive action, recommendations can be made to creatively overcome them.

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