It’s Time to See Your Waste as a Resource!

Because it’s true: one person’s waste is another’s treasure

Once a product or packaging gets dropped into a bin, its existence and usefulness seems to end. It becomes waste.

And to burrow deep into the bin to recover something is an icky prospect for most people, probably equating it with the act of a pemulung (waste scavengers) or tukang sampah (the local garbage man) who goes bin to bin carrying a heavy carriage that contains the collected waste from households. Double the icky factor when the waste is mixed with decomposing kitchen waste.

Simply put: waste is something you simply throw away and don’t want to see ever again. Once the bin is closed and disposed of, we move on and start the consume-and-throw cycle once more.

One particular waste has recently gained notoriety due to its “abundance” in nature: plastic pollution. Which is why the theme “End Plastic Pollution” takes the spotlight on this year’s Earth Day. The word “plastic” these days conjures images of dirty beaches teeming with plastic bags, plastic straws, and plastic packaging; dying marine species like whales and turtles, and fish-favorite microplastics.

And, yet, we are still using it… A lot.

According to a study, plastic products is one of the largest applications and accounts for 26% of the total volume of plastics used across the globe. Plastic packaging production is expected to double within 15 years and skyrocket four times by 2050, to 318 million tons annually.

To end plastic pollution (or to end any type of waste, really) requires a change of mindset. Not only by preventing the output of more waste by being a smart consumer (i.e. reducing your consumption of plastic) and committing to waste separation at source to maximize the recovery of recyclables, but also learning to view waste as a resource.

“The recyclables should be recognized as the seventh most important resource, after water, air, coal, oil, natural gas, and minerals,” according to the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), the oldest and largest global recycling federation. “There is an urgent need to raise awareness about the seventh resource and enhance the perception that recycling is about creating a clean and sustainable environment for us and for future generations.”

Waste to Wealth

The book Still Only One Earth: Progress in the 40 Years Since the First UN Conference on The Environment states that recognizing waste as valuable resources to be utilized and exploited commercially rather than dumped and forgotten is a crucial mindset to put in motion the sustainable circular economy model.

Why is it a valuable resource? Because plastic bottles or other types of plastic packaging can be broken down into pellets which in turn can be made into material for clothes, and the process may reward a considerable profit for the buyer and seller. Which is why one way that can help redirect our perception from seeing waste as useless waste to something that has the potential to be a source of extra—or even main!—income is to monetize the waste we produced.

“When you put a monetary value over your waste, then the bigger the possibility of people having a different view on their own waste,” says Ni Made Dwi Septi Antari, Education Coordinator for ecoBali. “It’s definitely a better way to engage the local communities in activities that can raise the awareness on how their waste affects the environment.”

Other than collaborating with brand names—as part of the brand’s Extended Producer Responsibility—as well as manufacturers to collect and recycle PET water bottles, one of ecoBali’s ways to reduce plastic pollution on a municipal level is to engage communities, businesses, and schools to join the waste bank program, Ini Bukan Sampah (This is Not Waste).

“For plastic waste, there are several types of waste that we purchase, such as clean and dirty PET bottles, clear and colored plastic cups, hard plastics [like buckets or shampoo bottles], and plastic bags,” says Bintang Reditya, Project Coordinator for Ini Bukan Sampah.

There are still hurdles to overcome to deal with the problem of plastic waste (chief among them are the lack of awareness, facility, transport, and recycling factory), but the concept of a waste bank—spurred by private entities—fits perfectly with the execution of circular economy as it encourages more people to separate and recycle their waste. Even the government is realizing its potential—recently Bali’s Environmental Agency (DLHK) remarked that they are targeting 200 waste banks will be made available this year—up from 78 in 2017.

“Other than benefiting from its economic value, the waste bank is effective in reducing the amount of plastic waste in our community,” says Dwara from Banjar (local council) Kulibul Kangin, who joined ecoBali’s waste bank program since last year and now has 30 members. “There are still challenges in persuading more people to join but I’m happy that the members we do have don’t really pay much attention to the economic value of the waste because they’re doing it for the environment. Some members would even collect waste from outside of their own house when they are walking around the Banjar or after a ceremony has taken place.”

And that, is a bonus.

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