By Joi Danielson, Founder – Vital Ocean, Partner – SYSTEMIQ,
and Nur Anik, Community Development Officer – Project Stop
Our vision is to end plastic waste in the environment, but this vision means much more than just solving the waste challenge, it also looks at solutions to support better lives for millions of communities by enabling a local sustainable ecosystem. Our investments are directed by four strategic pillars, one of which is Infrastructure. The latter targets plastic waste leakage so every community should have universal access to an environment free of plastic waste at its source.
In our new blog series, we dive into Vital Lessons from the Frontline of Waste and Ocean Plastic from the book Leave No Trace. This book is publishedby Vital Ocean with social impact organisations, Hasiru Dala and TriCiclos. In these blogs, founder Joi Danielson together with co-authors of the book will showcase how six pioneering organisations working in challenging, high plastic-leakage environments in India, Indonesia, and several countries in South America have solved difficult and universal questions on building robust waste and recycling systems.
“Today’s question: How do you convince a community that has never known formal waste management to not only stop dumping and burning their garbage, but to also pay for this service?”
It’s 10 p.m. and Abdul sets out into the darkness to see what he can catch. His boat doesn’t get far before he hears that all too familiar sound. Begrudgingly, he jumps into the water to remove the plastics that have entangled his boat’s propeller. When he gets home, he will smell rotten. The only way he’s found to remove the stench is to first wash his body with gasoline, then scrub it with a strong detergent; no normal soap is strong enough to separate him from this smell. Abdul and his fellow fishermen are very concerned about ocean plastic in Muncar, where more than 95 per cent of this Javanese community’s waste is either dumped or burnt, until recently.
In response to this reality, Project STOP partnered with the local Muncar government with the aim of setting up a new circular, economically robust waste management system. Their first task was solving the dilemma of how to convince a community that had never known formal waste management to not only stop dumping and burning their garbage, but to also pay for this service.
STOP’s Community Development Officer, Nur Anik, knew she needed to build trust before introducing the technical aspects of bins and waste collection payments. She started by listening to the community’s concerns, then focused on Satellite Beach, a neighbourhood of fishermen like Abdul whose livelihoods were impacted by the current reality and were hungry for change.
There was a strong leader already in place, Pak Dul Kawi, who was both a leader of the fishermen and head of the local neighbourhood (“RW”). One day after the evening prayer (Maghrib), Pak Kawi called together other neighbourhood heads and community members to a meeting at the mosque. About 70 people showed up. Sitting on the floor—snacking on fried bananas and boiled peanuts and potatoes—they discussed how to deal with the growing levels of trash in their neighbourhood.
Anik used what she had learned to craft a story that would matter to this community. After playing a popular ocean plastic video, she showed pictures of their river drowning in trash and their children playing barefoot atop trash-strewn beaches. She asked, “Is this the future you want to give your children?”
In response, Pak Kawi’s voice grew loud: “We need to deal with this.” The gathering was angry and ready.
Anik then explained how a waste system worked, highlighting the difference between organic and non-organic waste, the importance of sorting waste, and the cost of collection services. As is often the case, the audience was ready to engage in the task until money was mentioned. This caused them to throw up their arms, hiss and raise their voices, and complain that it was the government—not them—who should pay.
Calmly using a Madurese phrase, “bedhe pakon, bedhe pakan” (roughly, “If you ask someone to do something for you, you must pay for their sweat”), Anik described the effort required in thoroughly collecting garbage. Her audience nodded in understanding. No one liked to do work without being paid.
Only then did she explain that the government would also be financing the community’s waste service. Collection fees would need to be much higher if the government did not do so. She then outlined two pricing schemes—Rp20,000/month ($1.40) for daily collection or Rp10,000 ($0.70) for every other day. What had started as a fight about paying versus not paying was now a debate about the level of service to activate.
Next, the idea of outsiders being employed by the village’s waste centre to collect the community’s trash was protested. There was a strong feeling that jobs needed to be given to their community members. In addition, it was important that people trusted who was walking their streets, taking their trash. Anik knew that separate collection workers for each neighbourhood were not only inefficient, but there was little recourse if one became sick or decided to spend the day fishing, Even so, she understood how important it was to take their concerns seriously and agreed to try their approach.
But when the community’s chosen collectors tired of the job and quit after a few months, the formal collection workers from outside were embraced.
Transition costs are high for residents who have never known waste management. New habits have to be formed and money has to be budgeted for a service that already has a cost-free (though harmful) alternative. But after the urgency of change is established, trust can be built by initially implementing a community’s wishes in low-risk situations. If they are right, something valuable is learned. If not, there is an appreciation for the effort made.
Project STOP is particularly strong in these kinds of relationship and influencing techniques. To see how other organisations use such strategies – as well as seven other influencing models – read Leave No Trace: Vital Lessons from the Frontline of Waste and Ocean Plastic.
The Alliance is proud to be partnering with Project Stop on its third program to design and deploy a system to collect waste, enable recycling, create jobs, clean up areas and improving the lives of communities in Jembrana, Northwest Bali. For more, visit endplasticwaste.org/projects