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Community-based Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (3Rs) activity: seemingly easy yet challenging program

Posted in solid waste management with tags , , on August 30, 2011 by sanitationmatters

The community-based 3Rs activities are one way to solve the problems of solid waste management these days. It is similar to material recovery facility, but the management is run by the community. The activity is expected to recover some materials worth recycling or reusing and aiming at reducing the amount of waste transported to  the final disposal sites, thus prolonging the life of the site.   The activity also includes the making of compost as one of the sell-able products from which the activity is going to be funded.

It seems so easy. A community is expected to feel “helped” by the activity in solving their domestic waste problems, and the activity could run by itself using the fund obtained from selling the recovered and recycled products. Well, it is not that easy. I have visited some of these facilities in Indonesia, and some still ran, and some did not. Besides, from the data I obtained from the ministry of Public Works, I found out that the percentage of successful site of this type of activity during 2007-2008 decreases from 50% to 30%, although by amount, the number increases. Those activities that still ran, looked very good. The committee was so eagerly presenting the activities, what they did,  had achieved, and planned for the activity. The participation of the surrounding community is quite high, especially related to the collection fee of their domestic waste. -The activity organizes solid waste pick-up service to the surrounding community.

But those that had stopped, it all boils down to only some reasons. First, there is not enough fund to cover the cost of the activity. The money obtained from selling the recovered and recycled waste is smaller than what the activity should spend. And the second, it is the participation of the surrounding community. This somewhat relates to the income of the activity: the waste collection fee. The lower the participation, the lower the income form the collection fee. But not only that, the lower level of participation means the lower waste input (and quality) to the activity.

So to me, really, the challenges are those two issues, money (like it or not) and participation. Let’s discuss both separately.

Money. The activities need steady income at its early stage; this could come from the government, or donation from NGOs or private sectors as their corporate social responsibility. Important expenditures include: human resources (people hired to separate, collect, process the  waste and maintain the facility),  equipments (for sure!) including shredder for making compost, shovels, bags, etc, water and electricity.

At this early stage, the activity should find steady market as source of its income, and most importantly, steady production, both  quality and quantity wise, to meet the identified demand. This could use some intervention form the government, to link the activity to potential sectors: agriculture, or city landscape and gardening. The intervention could also be directed in assisting the activity’s committee preparing a good yet simple business plan, that is sell-able to NGOs and private sectors in the surrounding area. For a change, the activity’s site  could bear the name of the private sector and NGOs written on the infrastructures, maybe on the wall or on the gate, wherever that is deemed promotional for the private sector. That is not a crime, i believe. This stage lasts definitely for more than 3 or even 6 months. Although no empirical evidence existed yet, the stage might last up to 1 year. After this, the assistance could be reduced to only a facilitator supervising the activity. It all happens before the activity could actually takes off, running by its own effort.

Participation. The community should first be realized the benefits of having such activity. Look at the good side: all waste is transported to the facility, what they have to do is to put the waste in plastic bags, and pay for the collection fee. They do not have to bury,  be covered in smoke as they burn their waste in the backyard, or take a good walk to dump the waste in an unoccupied piece of land. All is time-saving! This takes intense and down-to-earth campaign, as well as a role model.

It is hard, but it is not impossible.

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