What will it take to solve the global plastic waste crisis? In a world where 3 billion people still lack access to waste disposal systems, waste is often dumped or burned. One way to start tackling this is by enabling communities to manage their plastic waste better. Doing so requires collaborative action and strategic partnerships as powerful catalysts for change.
Building strong partnerships underlines all that we do at rePurpose Global. We constantly seek out organizations, innovators, brand partners and individuals who share a similar passion for change and drive to tackle the plastic waste crisis.
One partnership that has left an indelible mark is the one we share with Alliance to End Plastic Waste (Alliance). The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is a non-profit organization with a focus on implementing and investing in innovative solutions to develop or enhance waste management systems. We established a partnership through our Impact Project Hara Kal, in Kerala, India.
Taking on the plastic waste challenge
Between September 2022 and March 2023, the Alliance and rePurpose Global embarked on a seven-month project to empower households in rural villages in Kerala, India with end-to-end waste management.
The coastal state of Kerala in India is well-known as a tourist destination, and boasts a rich cultural and ecological heritage. The region generates over 130,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year, but less than 3% gets recycled.
We conducted in-depth research to map out the entirety of the challenge at the outset. rePurpose Global’s baseline study revealed that an alarming 70% of this waste is constituted of low-value multi-layered plastics(MLP) such as throwaway wrappers, packets and sachets.
Bear in mind that this type of plastic waste is hard to recycle and has little economic value in the recycling market. This makes it the least likely to be collected, and the most likely to end up leaking into nature.
Our work with the Alliance set out to address this multifaceted issue, and the partnership aimed to work in the most effective manner to change how plastic waste is managed in Kerala.
A partnership powered by additionality
This project was run through a public-private partnership where local self-help groups, local self-governing bodies and waste management innovators came together.
The first step for this partnership was to map out the critical areas for intervention, and set the right goals – collaborating with local organizations and keeping in mind the community’s needs.
Our collaboration had two important, overarching goals:
- Environmental Impact: Create a full lifecycle waste value chain to achieve the collection and ethical processing of over 1,000 tonnes of low value plastic waste across the 8 villages
- Socio-economic Impact: Improve working conditions, provide training and community engagement for local women’s self-help waste workers’ groups
This partnership changed the face of rural waste management in 8 coastal villages in Kerala, by introducing a system to improve and streamline waste management operations while activating a complete value chain for low-value plastics. Though some collection of the MLP existed previously, collections were sporadic and villagers would frequently dump or burn these plastics.
Through this project, we were able to minimize the quantities of low value plastics that were dumped, landfilled or burned. And, the new system has a ripple effect by becoming an additional source of income for 218 workers.
The success of a community-driven approach
Over seven months, our joint endeavor at Project Hara Kal built an efficient model that addressed the unique challenge of waste for the communities.
In the implementation phase, the local women’s self help group, the Haritha Karma Sena (Green Task Force), were appointed, upskilled and trained to carry out regular door-to-door collection services.
The intention behind instituting a financial incentive program – ensuring a price for collected MLP – was to ensure that this plastic waste was worth collecting. In doing so, plastic waste that was earlier mismanaged was collected and taken to be sorted at a Material Recovery Facility at Thamarassery and then sent to be ethically co-processed.
As we went about the project, we followed rigorous traceability protocols to track our progress against our goals. Every kilogram of plastic waste collected was tagged and tracked to ensure the impact being created was accounted for on our proprietary traceability tool, reTrace. An extensive third party audit was also conducted by A. A. Garg & Co. to validate the impact through field visits and documentation reviews.
We are proud to share that one month ahead of schedule – less than five months into the project – over 32,970 households were assured regular waste management services. From 8 villages we collected and recovered 1,040 tonnes of additional low-value plastic.
For the 218 workers, including women’s self-help group members and workers at the material recovery facility, the project meant a more profitable and stable livelihood. Apart from assuring them a new stream of income, they were provided with Personal Protective Equipment kits and other equipment that improved their working conditions.
Beyond this, we conducted regular awareness training sessions on fire safety and regulatory compliance, and ran capacity-building programs on waste management best practices for all the workers at the project.
Additionally, community engagement programs, public rallies, educational tours for schools and clean-up drives were also carried out to build awareness and stress the importance of waste management for the residents in the region. Through local clean-up drives alone we recovered a further 43,000 kilograms of plastic litter.
What happens next?
The partnership with the Alliance was an effort to activate a complete waste value chain in the region. As an immediate next step, the project in these 8 villages is continuing, and being onboarded onto Verra’s registry (the leading plastic recovery standard) of projects for verified plastic removal.
This means that the project will receive sustained investment to support the waste management operations in these villages that we began with the Alliance.
Working with the Alliance taught us the extent to which strong partnerships can set up, activate and stabilize long lasting positive change in the way waste is being managed by rural communities.
As we change the waste management status quo in Kerala, it also reminds us that there is so much more we can do. The potential for impact is limitless, so long as we work together with integrity.