In Indonesia, Driving Solutions to a Global Ocean Plastic Problem - SecondMuse

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    The Ocean Plastic Prevention Accelerator's growing network is preventing thousands of tons of waste from polluting the environment.

    Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is at the forefront of creating solutions for the flow of plastic pollution into the world’s waterways. Around 620,000 tons of plastic waste leak into the country’s waters each year — a figure that is projected to grow significantly. The problem mainly stems from a disconnect between the vast quantity of plastic produced and a lack of infrastructure to properly manage the waste — a job that overwhelmingly falls to informal waste collectors who carry out their essential work for little pay and often in dangerous conditions.

    To tackle this complex challenge, the Ocean Plastic Prevention Accelerator (OPPA), our program under the umbrella of The Incubation Network, has spent the last three years building and working with an expansive network of people, businesses and institutions to identify and address gaps in Indonesia’s plastic waste streams.

    To date, the program’s suite of initiatives has engaged more than 100 collaborators, from government officials to informal workers, and helped support 45 innovative ventures, community businesses as well as micro, small and medium enterprises, from a local waste collection center in the Indonesian province of East Java to a Norway-based digital platform that connects waste buyers and sellers. 

    In 2020 and 2021, those 45 ventures, together, prevented 25,540 metric tonnes (51 million pounds) of plastic from polluting the environment. Driving this progress is the OPPA team’s relentless research-driven work to connect and support the people and institutions working in waste management in Indonesia. Their community-building approach closely aligns with the work SecondMuse does around the world to foster connections and build inclusive economies that protect our planet, create better living conditions for marginalized communities, and provide opportunities for future generations to thrive.  

    Fostering meaningful connections is often painstaking work, but the story of OPPA’s evolution from a newcomer in the waste management space to an established convener working with everyone from informal waste pickers to global organizations, shows the promise of building networks to tackle the world’s most challenging problems. 

    First Building Trust, Then Building a Network

    OPPA’s foray into the ocean plastic prevention space began in Greater Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest metropolitan area, which is a key producer of plastic waste in the country, and an important recycling hub. The presence of key waste management stakeholders in the area offered the team a promising landscape on which to build connections and offer support. To orient themselves and build trust with established actors, the OPPA team conducted extensive outreach and research. They learned that while many groups were already working on solutions to the plastic problem, they were largely working in silo. To plant the first seeds of collaboration, the OPPA team organized a sector-wide workshop and designed a game-based mapping tool, which allows multiple “players” in the waste management space to convene and discuss potential solutions and interventions. 

    Beyond driving conversation between different waste management actors, the period of extensive outreach and research enabled the team to map the flow of waste in Greater Surabaya, and to partner with the Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology and Surabaya Central Waste Bank to launch an open-source directory of waste banks operating in the city.

    These early days helped the team develop deep insights into the reasons for the lack of connection mechanisms in the local waste sector. These learnings were also foundational in helping the team hone its theory of change and roadmap that leads to the group’s vision of healthy ocean ecosystems, behavior change toward plastic waste, and an inclusive circular plastic economy. The theory of change, which emphasizes collaboration, has since informed all of their program activities, from festivals and hackathons to flagship programs that have driven measurable change.

    Scaling an Entrepreneurial, Collaborative Community 

    Two of these key programs were launched in 2019 to support important plastic waste management work already being done in Surabaya. The Waste Action Network (WAN) organized lunch and networking sessions and a WhatsApp group to give waste management stakeholders practical opportunities to meet and exchange ideas and crucial information. The Waste Community Accelerator (WCA), meanwhile, offered businesses and small and medium-sized organizations formalized mentorship, support and expert consultation. The program’s first cohort included several waste banks, which buy and sell recyclable trash; a business that recycles plastic waste to produce furniture; and non-profits that help local waste banks develop capacity.

    Within just a year, OPPA was able to expand its WCA programming beyond Surabaya to the wider province of East Java, and in 2021 doubled the size of its cohort. Alumni have become important members of OPPA’s wider network and are currently on pace to increase their collective waste management capacity by several hundred metric tonnes.

    As the OPPA team nurtured its network in East Java, it also began work to further expand its reach. In collaboration with The Indonesia National Plastic Action Partnership and The World Economic Forum, OPPA launched the Informal Plastic Collection Innovation Challenge (IPCIC) in March 2021. The Challenge and subsequent accelerator aimed to address the vulnerabilities that Indonesian waste collectors face as essential workers in a shadow economy. This effort offered support to entrepreneurs working on supply chain ethics and traceability, upskilling and empowering informal workers, and integrating informal workers into the economy.

    Participants received mentorship, training, and practical assistance, as well as connections with leading waste management actors. For example, the Norway-based team behind Empower, a digital platform that improves the traceability of plastic feedstock and connections between sellers and buyers, was connected to KPL SAE, a local waste management company and WCA alumnus. By utilizing Empower’s technology, KPL SAE has been able to improve its waste tracking and traceability efforts and generate additional income.   

    Against this backdrop, OPPA’s Waste Action Network has continued to grow and now includes more than 135 members, including government officials, companies, and academics across Indonesia, whose collective efforts are already bearing fruit — in the tons of plastic diverted from the ocean, and dozens of informal workers empowered and upskilled. 

    More broadly, OPPA, in wider conjunction with The Incubation Network, continues to deliver impact in South and Southeast Asia, through engagement with new cohorts and partners, and an alumni network that continues to benefit from the forged connections.