Tackling Waste Management Infrastructure To Help Communities Reduce Plastic Pollution – Forbes

On a mission to address the environmental, social and economic impacts of plastic pollution and other trash, the global company Dow is partnering with communities in Latin America and Asia to convert waste into a resource – with training and education at the core of their philosophy.

“The coaching process is truly personalized as we believe our biggest impact will come from people,” says Han Zhang, APAC Sustainability Director. “That’s why the team is investing so much time and energy on training.”

In doing this, they are helping to create long term solutions that turn waste into an income source via recycling value chains while reducing its environmental burden.

In Latin America, where four million people rely on waste as a source of income, Dow has partnered with Boomera and Fundación Avina on “Recycling for change”. The project brings experts and leaders together to create scalable solutions that support the community, such as improving work conditions and developing a collaborative work model for separation cooperatives.

To start with, they identified five cooperatives to support in Sao Paulo – Brazil’s biggest waste generator – which have several administrative, infrastructural and managerial needs. After identifying the most impactful interventions, they developed personalized work plans for each co-op. The project is currently in the implementation phase.

In partnership with Dow, Boomera is working with the cooperatives on process improvements and equipment implementation, while Avina is overseeing administrative improvements, including coaching leaders from each organization on different aspects of management.

On average, the collaboration aims to increase participating waste pickers’ monthly income from R$700 (~US$169) to R$2,000 (~US$480).

In its current form, the initiative has the potential to benefit hundreds of families along the waste management value chain.

“This model aims to enhance the efficiency of our operations, improve our management and generate more income for our workers,” says Jair do Amaral, president of Cooperativa Crescer. “It is everything we have been looking for, and we are very happy to report that in three short months, we have already seen results on our sales spreadsheet.”

Manager Thais Rodrigues comments that he has “seen many improvements in the cooperative, within ourselves, our relationships and our level of organization”.

The final phase of the initiative will be to develop a working model based on all the information they have gathered that can be scaled and implemented across Latin America, says Zhang.

Across the Pacific, Project MASARO is working with Indonesia, the world’s second largest plastic waste producer that disposes of 3.2 million tons of plastic waste per year.  The initiative is helping communities create a closed loop waste management system that converts different kinds of waste into valuable products.

Dow and their partners, including the Bandung Institute of Technology, launched a pilot project at a boarding school in the village of Babakan, running a series of training workshops for students, teachers and administrators to introduce the concept and technology.

This has resulted in turning organic materials like food waste into fertilizer that can be used by local farmers, and hard-to-recycle plastics into fuel using pyrolysis. They sell recycled materials like glass, paper and metal to traditional recycling companies, while other materials are converted into energy and used to power the pyrolysis equipment.

So far, the project has converted more than 8,800 pounds of waste into more than 18,000 liters of fertilizer and 90 liters of liquid fuel. In the process, the team has trained more than 3,000 students and teachers in proper waste management and plans to train another 10,000 community members before the end of the year.

Man 2 student Novita Rosmawati has been inspired by the initiative. “Through MASARO, we learned that waste is not just waste, but it can become valuable products through the process. I wanted to become a psychologist, however after knowing there is recycled waste from MASARO, now I intend to start a recycling home industry in my village.”

Collaboration is at the heart of both projects’ success, says Zhang, without which they would not be viable. While the ultimate goal is to create a scalable zero-waste model that can be replicated globally, he says they realize that different communities face different challenges around recycling and waste management.

“Collaborating with local partners allows us to identify the technology solutions and processes that will best address these unique needs.”

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