Clean Tech

Waste management: It’s all about building an ecosystem

Dakshiani Palicha | Updated on September 22, 2020

The ALL_TOGETHER GLOBAL CLEANUP campaign under way now drives home the message

The issue of waste management requires action on multiple fronts — be it policy, infrastructure, or awareness. But according to international non-profit organisation, The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, there is one integral aspect that can and should be given immediate attention — disposal.

Cleaning up litter — especially plastic litter — that is already present in our towns and cities is not only better for our surroundings, but can also help develop waste management solutions.

With this in mind, The Alliance has announced the ALL_TOGETHER GLOBAL CLEANUP campaign. For two weeks beginning September 19, World Cleanup Day, The Alliance’s member companies, which includes global giants BASF, Shell, P&G and Reliance Industries in India, as well as non-member participants will clean their cities and towns by picking up any litter they find and disposing of it suitably.

Clean up, according to Jessica Lee, Vice-President of Global Communications, is an important strategic pillar of The Alliance. “We want (the action of) cleaning up to be long-lasting, we want it to be a part of society. But if we keep cleaning up and nobody changes…it’s just going to lead to a big mess. So, it’s important to clean up, and to engage society in cleaning up as well. World Cleanup Day for us is an opportunity to help people understand this.”

The Alliance is partnering with the Litterati app for this campaign. Litterati helps individuals make a ‘measurable’ impact, by providing a platform where every piece of litter picked up to be discarded is photographed and uploaded on the Cloud.

“Each photograph has a lot of data,” said Jeff Kirschner, founder and CEO of Litterati. “It has a time stamp and a geo-tag, so we are mapping where all this litter is found. We use computer vision to look at the photographs and try to understand what are the objects, the material, the brands. And, we are able to understand who are the people picking things up all over the world,” he added.

The challenge

All of The Alliance’s member companies, their staff, communities, and even non-members will be roped in to participate in the campaign. Downloading the Literatti app and entering the code ‘clean’ will take you to the official ALL_TOGETHER ‘challenge’, where photographs of the collected pieces of litter must be uploaded. “Challenges are containers for organising people to come together and pursue a goal. For example, there can be a goal of 10,000 pieces of litter to be collected, and it can involve your family, company, or city,” said Kirschner.

The goal for the ALL_TOGETHER campaign is 1,00,000 pieces. “But something tells me we will surpass that 100 times over,” he added.

What are the insights expected at the end of the campaign? “We are looking for hotspots,” said Lee. “It’s easy to say there is a lot of rubbish along the beach in Mumbai — it’s what you can see. But you have to ask how come there is rubbish in the remote parts (of cities)? It’s what you can’t see; that’s a key challenge. So we will look at identifying hotspots and the kind of waste being thrown away.”

Kirschner added: “We are expecting quite a bit of data. We will look closely at who are the individuals that are collecting the litter. The Alliance can see that these 10, 100 or 1,000 individuals are doing amazing work. So how do we engage with these people, and make them our environmental ambassadors?”

Finding the right solutions

“Cleaning up the planet doesn’t happen in one day or with one two-week campaign. It takes many partners to create a solution,” added Kirschner, stressing on the importance of having a waste management ecosystem in place, especially in a country like India. Statistics from 2019 state that the country generates 1.50 lakh tonnes of solid waste every day.

“India has a waste problem; there is a lack of infrastructure. So what we want to do over the next 12 months — with The Alliance — is go deeper into the local cultures. We want to apply technology, data, and the power of community not to dream up something that we think is going to be effective…but understand how we can be of value,” he said.

According to Lee, there is no one-size-fits-all answer here. “A solution that will work in Puducherry will be different from that in Rishikesh or in Haridwar (The Alliance has projects in all three cities). They’re all culturally very different. Going city by city is important,” she said.

“We’re lucky to have a member base that is the full plastic value chain – everybody that produces waste. So we can bring a lot of expertise, engineering and technical know-how…Collaboration is important. We need to bring everybody to the table and find solutions that cater to the different societies,” Lee added.

Published on September 22, 2020

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