Thilafushi: The Island In Maldives Made Entirely Of Trash

Updated: Aug 13

The Maldives despite being one of the most beautiful places, is most threatened by climate change, as about 80% of the island nation sits at 3.3feet (1 meter) below sea level rise.


Ironically, the highest spot above sea level in the country is made out of trash in an enormous manufactured lagoon landfill called Thilafushi.


Thilafushi Garbage Island

HISTORY


At one time, Thilafushi was a lagoon known as "Thilafalhu," which stretched for a distance of seven kilometres and was two hundred metres across at its broadest point. In the early 1990s, a number of conversations and efforts were made to find a solution to the problem of waste disposal in Malé. This led to the establishment of the organisation. The 5th of December, 1991 was the day that the decision was reached to reclaim Thilafalhu as a landfill.


On January 7, 1992, Thilafushi was presented with its first load of rubbish brought from Malé. When operations began, there was just one landing craft, four heavy load trucks, two excavators, and one wheel loader available.


Pits (also known as cells) with a volume of 37,500 ft3 (1060 m3) were dug during the early years of the company's waste disposal operations. After that, the sand that was obtained from the excavation was used to construct walled enclosures around the internal perimeter of the pits, which were also known as cells.


The garbage that was collected in Malé was thrown into the centre of the pit, which was then covered with a layer of rubbish from the building site, followed by a layer of white sand that was spread out evenly. At first, there was no attempt made to separate the various types of trash because all of it had to be thrown out at once owing to the rapid accumulation of garbage.


THE RECLAMATION PROJECT


Located 7km from the country's capital city, Male, Thilafushi, is an artificial island, that began life as a reclamation project in the early 1990s. The artificial island was built to solve the problem of waste created by tourism.


HEAPS OF GARBAGE


As per media reports, the trash island is 125 acres huge and is growing at a square metre a day. Environmentalists say that more than 330 tonnes of rubbish are brought to Thilafushi a day which is simply poured into holes and covered with sand, going through no treatment sorting or other maintenance.


NATURE AT RISK


With more tourists flocking to the island, the waste has piled so high that it causes ever-smouldering fires, which spark methane built up in all the trash enveloping Male and neighbouring islands in smoke.


Further, the increase in electronic waste consisting of hazardous items like asbestos, lead, batteries, and heavy metals has complicated the safety of the disposal system posing a significant risk of water contamination.


TURNING SUSTAINABLE


After 30 years of dumping solid waste, the Maldives is now investing in a more sustainable waste management system to reduce emissions, improve resilience and protect local fishing and tourism industries.


MISSION 2026


The greater Male region is implementing a two-phased project stretching to 2026. The project is financed through a combination of grants and loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), as well as government financing and a special fund of $10 million from the Japan Fund for Joint Credit Mechanism (JFJCM) to incentivise low-carbon investments.