Cookie tracking notice
Are we allowed to crumble with cookies and anonymous tracking?

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site (so called session cookies), while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). We use the application Matomo and the external service etracker to analyze your behavior on our website anonymously. Because we value your privacy, we are here with asking your permission to use the following technologies. You can change your settings any time via this link or the menu item in footer menu. For more information visit our Data Policy

Kiritimati Island is a unique place. Situated within the Line Islands group of the Republic of Kiribati, an island country spanning almost 3.5 million km2 of ocean, it isn’t easy to find on a map. The closest international airport (other than its own) is in Honolulu – more than 2,000 km away. The capital of its own country is even farther away. Despite being  the largest coral atoll in the world, as of 2020 only 7,369 people live there.

Article written by

Jeremy Kohlitz Research Director - Institute for Sustainable

University of Technology Sydney, Australia

Jeremy is a WASH researcher specialising in applied and transdisciplinary approaches with particular interest in climate change and WASH.

Kaiea Ribanataake Awira Founder and Manager

Clean Spatial Solution, Kiribati

I am a dynamic entrepreneur leading a recycling, waste management, and consultancy firm, embodying a commitment to environmental sustainability for Kiribati. Possessing technical expertise in geospatial application, coastal risk and vulnerability assessment, and project management, I seamlessly blend scientific acumen with entrepreneurial spirit. As a green entrepreneur, I strive to revolutionize waste management practices, contributing to a greener and more sustainable future.

Ngaouea Neemia WASH Officer

UNICEF Pacific, Kiribati

Ngaouea is a mother of four children from Kiribati and currently hold the position of WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) officer at UNICEF, stationed on Kiritimati Island. My deep passion lies in collaborating closely with local communities on the island to improve health standards by advocating for advanced sanitation and hygiene practices.

Share this article on

Reading Time: 4 min.

It is renowned for its beautiful shorelines, friendly inhabitants, and importance as a breeding ground for seabirds, but also for its challenges in supporting human settlements. The only significant groundwater sources on the island exist as shallow groundwater lenses. Due to the porous nature of the island’s soil, the shallow groundwater is susceptible to contamination from sanitation systems and seawater intrusion. The soil is also not naturally conducive to growing edible fruits or vegetables, both of which are limited in diversity on the island. Most building materials, fuel, and other supplies must be imported via infrequent passing ships and planes which comes with a high price tag.

Yet, Kiritimati has many qualities that lend itself to self-sufficiency. The island is peaceful and a strong sense of community runs throughout. The people living there have long had to make do with few material resources available to them which has contributed to a culture of inventiveness. The island itself is large by the standards of an atoll and has plenty of open space – so much so that the Government of Kiribati is working to incentivise people to move there from its crowded capital. This relocation effort is accompanied by investments by the Government and other organisations to make it a sustainable future home for more than double its current population by 2045.

Circular economy approaches have much to offer a place like Kiritimati, which has potential to become a model of a circular economy society. Freshwater reserves need to be carefully managed and regenerated which is possible through protection of groundwater lenses from contamination sources and replenishing it after the water has been extracted and used. Fisheries – an important source of food on the island – can be sustainably farmed and also protected from pollution. Even food grown on land has the potential to flourish if domestic wastewater is smartly treated and re-used as a fertilizer.

The CIRCLE WASH research project aims to explore circular economy opportunities within sanitation systems that could contribute to Kiritimati becoming a more self-sufficient place. The University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF), in partnership with UNICEF Pacific, recently spent time in Kiritimati to talk to government officials about the project’s 8Rs framework and used it to facilitate ideas for a circular economy future.

The possibilities abound. Leaky septic tanks and pit toilets are a significant contributor to the contamination of the precious groundwater lenses. Meanwhile, composted human waste is sometimes used as a soil conditioner and fertilizer in Kiritimati, as it has been used by many other societies for thousands of years, which can be completely safe with the right processes. What if that wastewater (or should we call it resourcewater?) could be entirely captured so that it doesn’t leak into the groundwater and instead is safely transformed into a product that enables nutritious foods to be grown and watered on the island? This could also help to prevent sanitation pollution from reaching the fisheries as the island population grows – a significant challenge in the capital South Tarawa. The attractiveness of such an innovation grows if one considers the opportunity to use existing or recycled materials to safely capture waste rather than relying on imported cement.

Much thought needs to go into considering how innovations like these could be made into reality and into ensuring they are affordable to the lowest-income households and meet the needs and aspirations of diverse people living in Kiritimati. But the need is great, particularly when one considers the possible effects of climate change in prolonging droughts, which would further threaten water security, and more intense rainfall event that increase the risk of contamination events. The CIRCLE WASH project is ongoing through 2024 and aims to highlight potential opportunities that hopefully will be taken advantage of beyond the life of the project.


We thank participating Kiritimati government officials for their insights and contributions to the research.


Share this page on

Share your experience in an own blog article

Do you have valuable insights or a unique perspective on WASH? We welcome article submissions from experts, researchers, practitioners, and anyone passionate about the field.

Make an impact and reach our global audience by contributing your article. Whether it's an innovative project, best practices, or personal stories, we value diverse perspectives. Join us in advancing the conversation and driving positive change in sustainable sanitation.

To submit your article or learn more about the process, contact us at