As an island nation, the Maldives faces a unique set of challenges in managing a rapidly growing volume of waste across its more than 1,200 islands. The country’s dispersed geography, limited land for waste storage, its densely populated capital city, and a host of other unique challenges require the Maldives to develop a solid waste management system and circular economy that can help the country more sustainably manage its waste, as well as the marine debris generated from other countries that is carried in by currents.

The Maldives’ total land area (115 sq mi) makes it the smallest country in Asia, although it is one of the most geographically dispersed countries in the world. This dispersion has proven to be extremely challenging for solid waste management and has led to a number of models being deployed that range from central and regional waste management dump sites, hybrid systems for resorts, and a series of informal practices for local communities. While some have operated with success, USAID’s Clean Cities, Blue Ocean program is piloting solutions to build coordinated systems to avert irreversible damage to our oceans, reduce plastic and waste-linked contributions to the climate crisis, and advance other priority development objectives.

Engagement Sites


  • Baa Atoll is a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve, revered for its marine biodiversity. Here, the program is working with local partners to strengthen the island’s waste management system by creating a system for regular plastic collection, engaging with Women’s Development Committees to increase opportunities for additional income through new and improved waste collection services, increasing recycling rates through the development of compacting stations, and promoting reuse and reduction of waste by local households, guesthouses, and cafes.
  • Malé residents generate more than twice the amount of waste of those on the nation’s other nativelyinhabited islands, with much of the waste sent to Thilafushi landfill—a former lagoon that is now known as “Rubbish Island.” In Malé, the program is working with local partners to promote more sustainable household waste practices that reduce the use of single-use plastics and aim for plastic-free lifestyles.

Impacts and Results

In the Maldives, program impacts (to date) include:

  • Safely managed over 60 metric tons of waste through program technical assistance and grantee activities, with nearly half recovered or diverted from disposal.
  • Trained over 400 individuals from local government, informal waste sector, and local organizations to build local capacity for solid waste management planning and programs.
  • Improved solid waste management services for more than 425 households in the islands of Kendhoo, Kudarikilu, Kamadhoo, and Dhonadu through new regular plastic collection services, improved knowledge around household waste collection and the 3Rs, and partnerships with local governments.

Program Grantees

  • In 2021 and 2022, Small Island Geographic Society (SIGS) conducted social and behavior change research in the Greater Malé area to learn about residents’ behaviors with respect to single-use plastics, what they understand about solid waste management and plastic waste, and their awareness of the Maldives’ single-use plastics phase-out policy. The research led to recommendations for local government incentive programs and future social and behavior change strategies—and is featured in a six-part docu-series that profiled 12 Maldivian families’ journey to reduce single-use plastics.
  • Soneva Namoona is building on its Soneva Namoona program that works with island communities on waste management. Soneva is working with the local Atoll Council to audit current waste management systems and address system gaps—ultimately creating and piloting an island model for waste management that can be replicated across Baa Atoll and other island communities. Elements of the model include: improving collection logistics for plastics, so that it is more consistent and reliable; training women’s development committees in household collection and promotion of 3Rs, so that new jobs and opportunities for income are available to women, while expanding local waste services; scaling home composting and solutions for organic waste management; and establishing new resources in the community for reuse/recycling.