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 (CCBO) 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.

Program Grantees

  • Small Island Geographic Society (SIGS) is learning what residents in the Greater Malé area are currently doing in regard to plastics, what they understand about SWM and plastic waste, and their awareness of the Maldives’ single-use plastics phase-out policy. They began by surveying over 250 households in Hulhumale, an area of Metropolitan Male, and are now conducting a waste audit on a smaller sample of 12 households to participate in long-term innovative action research. SIGS will collaborate with these 12 households over the course of a year to chart their course to replace single-use plastics and try out more sustainable practices.
  • Soneva Namoona is building on its Soneva Namoona program that works with island communities on waste management. In Baa Atoll, 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; and establishing new resources in the community for reuse/recycling—such as compacting stations to receive and bundle plastics for recycling partners and reusable glass bottle stations for households, guest houses, and cafés.