International Cooperation and Development

Timor-Leste: strengthening the Covid-19 response and promoting plastic recycling

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In Dili, Timor-Leste, people’s health is marred with plastic waste thrown on roadsides, beaches and burned throughout the city. Plastics are also harming the island’s biodiversity and marine life by putting its natural resources at risk. Plastic provides versatility and its cheap price is attractive to users, especially in Timor where 42 per cent of the population still lives below the national poverty line due to a high unemployment rate.

In late 2019, Caltech Unipessoal LDA, the European Union, and other partners coordinated by the Mercy Corps united with the goal of protecting the country’s natural resources and diversifying the country’s economy through plastics recycling. In December, they succeeded in opening a small factory to recycle plastic and produce pavers, achieving the critical first step in creating a new domestic industry and circular economy: recycling plastic waste.

Non-biodegradable plastics are hugely damaging for the environment, especially the marine environment, and unless we take action there will soon be more plastic than fish in the ocean
- Andrew Jacobs, Ambassador of the European Union to Timor-Leste

With the emergence of COVID-19, it became crucial for the country to adopt measures to prevent the disease from spreading further by promoting hygiene practices such as handwashing. However, many sites around Dili lacked the necessary handwashing stations. Caltech Unipessoal LDA, with funding from partners and €800,000 from the EU, and coordinated by Mercy Corps, quickly rose to the challenge by developing innovative handwashing stations that also promote recycling. Each handwashing station is made from 900-1,400 recycled plastic bottles.

Mr. Joao Carlos Soares, General Director for Environment, Secretary State Environment
Mr. Joao Carlos Soares, General Director for Environment, Secretary State for Environment
Staff from the National Directorate of Pollution Control, Secretary State for Environment
Staff from the National Directorate of Pollution Control, Secretary State for Environment

By July 2020, there were 34 handwashing stations installed around Dili, in universities, churches, clinics, and government buildings. The intervention helped the government of Timor-Leste in improving the basic sanitation facilities necessary as a precaution towards COVID-19. Additionally, given their use of recycled plastics, these handwashing stations will also help addressing the plastics issue in the island whilst raising awareness about recycling.

To reduce waste and to continue to take economic benefit from plastics, we need to recycle whenever possible. This is what this innovative new circular economy initiative is all about – re-using the plastic in bottles and other containers for other purposes
- Andrew Jacobs, Ambassador of the European Union to Timor-Leste

“Hamenus Lixu Plastiku (HLP)” - Reduce Plastic Waste is a three-year public-private partnership and multi-donor funded programme that aims to make Timor-Leste a ‘plastic neutral’ country whereby waste plastic is collected and recycled into local products. The resulting circular economy for plastic would bring industry diversification, creating new and innovative economic opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, while improving the natural beauty of the island and the health of its people.