Seychelles, Republic of: Interview with Mr. Michel Vielle

Mr. Michel Vielle

CEO (Landscape and Waste Management Agency)

Mr. Michel Vielle

The Seychelles Landscape and Waste Management Agency oversees the work done by between 250 and 300 cleaning contractors spread out on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. How would you describe the current system in place and its effectiveness?

The Landscape and Waste Management Agency was created in 2009 under the Environment Protection Act, specifically to manage two important sectors of the country: waste management -be it from the collection from the source up to disposal- and the nationwide cleaning and beautification of the country.

There are three main inhabited islands -Mahe, Praslin and La Digue-, where our activities are very prominent and very visible. We are not present in other islands because those are far-outlying islands and it is the Island Development Company which manages the islands in terms of waste. There are also private islands that deal with their own waste management system. We are therefore more prominent on Mahe, Praslin and La Digue.

As an agency, we are doing quite well. However, there are challenges.

Waste management today in Seychelles is focused on the collection which is being done by the private sector. The government itself is not involved in waste collection. For Mahe, there is the company STAR Seychelles, which is the main one conducting waste collection and disposal on behalf of government following a 20-year contract established in 1997. STAR’s contract will end this year. Evidently, the challenges that were present in 1997 are not the same challenges of today. Waste generation has changed significantly, and today we see ourselves as a country producing great amounts of waste, which is an alarming thing because our landfill is getting filled up, and as a small country with limited land resources, we are unable to build or create space for more landfill.  This is something that the agency and the government in general is tackling, we are searching solutions to successfully reduce waste generation.

Seychelles is a beautiful country, if you drive around at a certain time of the day, one should see all the bin sites empty and clean, which is not the case because the company doing the waste collection has its own limitations and they cannot meet the schedule, because people are producing and dumping more waste. Now, having a contract with a company dating from 20 years ago there are some conditions that cannot be changed now, we therefore look forward to the new tender where we can and will introduce changes in the conditions and the management.

These are changes we need to introduce to meet our challenges. Today, we have three landfills. They are termed as Landfill 1, Landfill 2 and the Anse Royale Landfill. Landfill 1 was basically created as a dumpsite landfill with all the technologies involved, whereas Landfill 2 is more modern as it is designed as a proper landfill with the possibility to capture and do treatment to the leachate. Landfill 1 is almost full completely, so we are only using Landfill 1 for certain types of waste deposits like sludges and waste oil and related materials; whereas Landfill 2 is used for Municipal waste. The Anse Royale Landfill is used for inert waste e.g. glass, asbestos.  

One of your main challenges is to find the right balance between protecting the environment and developing your economy. The amount of waste is expected to increase by 40% in the next 10 years which is of great concern given the limited availability of land. As the key player in waste management, what’s your approach to manage this increase?

There are different options being looked at currently. There are certain initiatives that the country has taken in terms of policy. For instance, the ban on plastic bag waste aimed at commercial plastic bags which will come into effect the 1st of July.  It entails a ban on importation of plastic bags which includes a buffer of a certain period of time because people will still have them at their homes and it's not going to be illegal per se to be walking on the road with a plastic bag. But if you have plastic bags at home, which are used and thrown away, eventually we will run out of plastic bags and that is the idea.

Other area that the country is currently looking at is the conversion of waste-to-energy. There have been different proposals coming in, namely international as well as local feasibility studies and projects.

Scrap metal is another issue we are addressing. The government has negotiated with two companies to be able to export scrap metal to Mauritius, to India, etc. There are also prospective projects from certain companies to export glass bottles and other types of glass waste.

The technology necessary to diversify waste management might be introduced to the country through an international company with the know-how and experience. Are you looking at international investors or collaborators to improve waste management in Seychelles? How are you attracting this know-how?

There are already several studies with international institutions. For instance, Darmstadt University is carried out a study on waste management models, from waste characterization to usage, conversion, and also waste-to-energy potentials. On the other hand, there is the Seychelles Energy Commission, which is also working in close collaboration with the agency and the ministry and looking at different models. However, nothing yet has materialized as we are still in the research phase. Eventually, after the different models are presented, the government will decide on which one is best for the country, taking into account the present management of landfill and the environment.

We do not have a dedicated channel of communication because the information is not yet completed.  Once researches are finalized, the government will take a decision as to whether to approach international companies or to just broadcast it out to all prospective proponents that want to come in and team up with the project. Nevertheless, we have bilateral corporations with countries. For instance, we have a wind farm with Masdar, a company from Abu Dhabi and a waste sorting program with La Reunion Island.

A glass recycling program was established by Seychelles Breweries had in the 1970s and in 2012 Seychelles Breweries began implementing a ‘zero waste to landfill’ policy as part of their corporate social responsibility, are you encouraging other companies to follow their lead?

It all depends on the policy. Our parent ministry is responsible for drawing up the policy on waste collection, waste management, and anything to do with waste and pollution in the country. The advantage is that we are small, hence we know the producers. For instance, there are around five companies producing alcoholic or soft drinks, this it is a targeted approach. Following wide stakeholders’ consultations -to assess the impact a policy would have on the sector- we make public statements on the media, towards the general public. This was the case, for instance, with the scheme on PET bottles.

Do you collaborate with trading companies -for instance the Seychelles Trading Company- so as to improve the quality and biodegradability of the products, and the packaging that come to the country?

It is an area that maybe we can eventually look at, provided that the import and final cost is not too high. If it's too high, the customer will have to absorb it, and this is when we will have to have a greater sensitization program because not everybody will accept outright. It will take time. It's a gradual process from paying a packet of washing machine detergent from 40 rupees a kilo, to 60 rupees a kilo. It has to be progressive, because the impact at the end of the day on the budget of the individual is something the government will have to look at. On option is to gradually phase out certain brands and allow the biodegradable alternatives to come in until the country is ready to phase out completely.

Indeed, on the other end of the chain you have the people. What are you doing to increase awareness and reduce waste production and disposal in Seychelles? What are the incentives they give to reduce waste?

In general, there are education programs through the schools. For instance, there is a unit which basically implements small environmental and waste management projects at the level of the schools. We also go out on the media to talk to people about recycling and the need to reuse; we also target specific events to be able to talk to people such as the World Environment day which is on the 5th of June and the Clean Up the World, which is in September.

As to sorting out the waste, the mechanism is not yet in place to be able to do it imminently. We're dealing with one company that collects waste from source but waste sorting at source is hard to do in Seychelles due to many factors, one of them being our topography; we need to have a bin site per household system, which is not very feasible in Seychelles There is also the fact that the collection cost will skyrocket and that we must change first the mindset of the people, as they are used to putting everything in one bin. Moreover, we need to have an end treatment center for waste and plastic, and a proper market for this which we do not have for now. Therefore, we are not ready to physically undertake waste sorting at source. Our best bet now is waste sorting at the end.

Finally, eBiz Guides is the premier guidebook for business globetrotters. Do you have a final message for our business globetrotters as a conclusion to the interview?

Seychelles is a champion in environmental conservation, 45% of our territory is under protected status. The country is thriving to a great extent, and in terms of budget injection into the waste collection and environmental projects, it is massive. We destine great part of the budget to keep the country clean.

Despite the challenges of waste collection, the country is striving to achieve cleanliness and efficiency. As a small country with limited resources, we don’t have that many people who are experts or who study the details of the sciences of waste management; but we are at an avant-garde stage as we have projects and studies being done. Eventually there will be a solution, not to the whole problem but certainly waste-to-energy.

We welcome companies, businesses, universities, international institutions that would want to come in and assist us.