Press Release: CLOCC partners with the Rethinking Recycling Academy to develop digital training materials for recycling and waste management systems in Indonesia

Denpasar, Indonesia / Oslo, Norway, February 17, 2021 – Clean Oceans through Clean Communities (CLOCC), owned by Avfall Norge has partnered with the Rethinking Recycling Academy, the recently-launched capacity building program of to transform local waste management systems in Bali, Indonesia.

Rethinking Recycling is the flagship program of, an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to create lasting and substantial impact on complex social challenges. Rethinking Recycling aims to empower every community to build green, inclusive and economic recycling systems. The Rethinking Recycling Academy launched in September 2020 with support of local partners including the national Ministries and has trained its first cohort through an intensive online capability building program which supports communities to transform their waste management systems into community-led, green and financially sustainable ecosystems.

The participants in the cohort are from six villages in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, where only a small proportion of the population sorts their waste regularly. The village leadership, community leaders, operational managers and waste workers participate in the Academy through a hybrid of online and offline delivery. The online Academy sessions which take place on a weekly basis are coupled with the support of the on-the-ground transformation team.

Ella Flaye,’s Regional Director for Asia explained how the Academy became a highly scalable digitally-enabled waste management solution, “Like many organizations, COVID-19 made us reimagine solutions for the communities we serve. What was once destined to be an interactive on the ground program has evolved into a highly digitized remote learning academy through the sponsorship of Avfall Norge and our ed-tech partnership with Quipper.”

The partnership of CLOCC and the Rethinking Recycling Academy includes funding the development of scalable teaching materials. Enrolled communities access the curriculum online via the learning management platform of Quipper, a digital learning partner. Alongside the digital curriculum, Avfall Norge funds the delivery of training sessions to the initial Academy cohorts.

“We have found there are a lot of synergies between CLOCC and Rethinking Recycling’s focus and projects,” said Sigve Ånderå, Project manager for CLOCC. “CLOCC’s focus is mainly on waste management and master planning on a strategic level with regencies. Rethinking Recycling Academy focuses more on operational capacity and skills training. There are a lot of synergies between the two approaches, so together we can achieve more through complementing each other’s work.”

Funding from Avfall Norge is helping to power the development of the digital platform that future cohorts will use as the program expands across Indonesia and beyond. The partnership with CLOCC and the Rethinking Recycling Academy demonstrates how strong alignment between the organizations can drive sustainable and long-lasting environmental, financial and social impact in close collaboration with local communities.

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About Rethinking Recycling

Rethinking Recycling is the flagship program of,, whose goal is to have lasting and substantial impact on complex social challenges. The organization works by partnering with leaders from the private, public and social sectors. Rethinking Recycling is tackling the waste crisis by mobilizing every player in the process – from waste workers to global multinational companies, from village leaders to Ministers. Facebook Twitter  | Instagram


Clean Oceans through Clean Communities (CLOCC) is an initiative by Avfall Norge, with ISWA as implementing partner. CLOCC is supported by Norad,and is a part of the Norwegian government’s development programme to reduce marine plastic pollution and microplastics. CLOCC ‘s objective is to reduce marine plastic pollution through improving waste management on land.

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Blog: Celebrating Women in Science That are Tackling Today’s Global Challenges

Follow Shannon Bouton on Instagram and Twitter.

At, part of our mission and approach to problem solving is “developing, testing and scaling solutions”, so it’s no wonder that our President & CEO, Shannon Bouton, is a scientist herself. “Being a scientist defines how I tackle problems that I am presented with and has thus helped to shape how our organization seeks to find answers” Shannon told us, when we recently spoke with her about her background in science.

For International Day of Women and Girls in Science – we sat down with Shannon to learn more about her background in science, her accomplishments in Biology and why it’s important we close the gender gap in science.

Shannon’s unique background has taken her to some incredible places around the world, studying biology and ecology and most noteworthy the environmental impacts on birds and wildlife. Now Shannon is using her background in science to tackle issues like reimagining waste management systems to help tackle our global waste problem.


Q: When and why did you first start getting interested in science? Was there a specific teacher, project or mentor you encountered along your way?

I lived in London from age 8 to 18 and went through the British school system. I gravitated early toward the sciences because I loved learning about the world and how it worked and eventually chose to do A’Levels in Chemistry, Physics and Biology. If I’m honest, part of my love for science came from two special teachers, Ms. Ross my physics teacher and Mrs. Mason my Chemistry teacher. I enjoyed their humor and the way they challenged me and my classmates to think for ourselves.

When I entered college, I decided to focus on Biology and Environmental Sustainability, because I was concerned about what I saw happening in our natural world. In grad school I found more strong women role models including my PhD advisor, Bobbi Low, who taught me to appreciate the fascinating complexities of animal behavior from birds to humans

Q: Tell us about your journey and background in science, beginning with college and through your work post college as a professional.

I have B.S. with a double major in Biology and Environmental Science, a Master’s in wildlife, Ecology and Conservation, and a PhD in Natural Resources and the Environment. In between each degree, I worked on different projects that shaped my next step. After undergrad, I looked for a way to get myself to Brazil. I was born in Brazil, but only lived there for a few years and was eager to return after being raised as an expat. I wanted to understand what it meant to be Brazilian.

I got a job in Mato Grosso Brazil, working in the Brazilian Pantanal looking at whether we could use wading bird colonies as biological indicators of ecosystem health. That led me to my Masters work at the University of Florida, working with Dr.s Peter Frederick and John Ogden who had written about this same approach for the Everglades. During my degree I started looking at specific stressors including methyl mercury and tourist disturbance to understand the impact on wading birds.

After that, I went back to work in Brazil with a non-profit in the Pantanal, then applied to PhD programs to continue my work on stressors. My PhD work looked at the effects of multiple combined stressors on the development of nestling birds, this time in Cliff Swallows in Nebraska. I loved field work, but I didn’t want to be an academic – I thought I wanted to work for a conservation non-profit. Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that having an MBA would be helpful, so I joined McKinsey & Company after defending my dissertation to get the business training. There I helped to start the sustainability practice and now I am proud to be leading our efforts here at as we tackle some of the most complex environmental challenges.

Q: is working on global complex challenges, specifically within circularity and building innovative waste management systems. Does your background in science play a role in how you approach these issues?

Absolutely. We take an experimental approach to many of the questions we tackle – comparing one solution against another to see which delivers the most impact. More than that, science has taught me how to disaggregate complex problems into small units that can be tackled without losing sight of the whole. Being a scientist defines how I tackle problems that I am presented with and has thus helped to shape how our organization seeks to find answers.

Q: What are some ways we can encourage women to embrace science early on? How important is representation in science?

Many studies of diversity and inclusion have shown that diverse teams are more creative, make better decisions, and draw more insightful conclusions. The same has been shown to be true in science, where having women on research teams often leads to new ideas and perspectives. Everyone approaches problem solving with their own biases. Ensuring the biases of a research team are not all the same, leads to more creative hypotheses, experimental approaches and thinking upfront and more robust interpretation of results.

Closing the gender gap has to start with keeping young girls excited about doing science. In middle school science, girls perform on par with boys and enroll in advanced science and math courses at equal rates. But then they move into high school, and there is a drop in girls participation. We need to find ways to encourage and excite girls who show promise or interest, looking at the ways we teach to make sure we are engaging them, and ensuring they don’t feel alone when they choose to pursue science in high school or college. I’m not an educator, but science applies to all aspects of life and it seems to me there are creative ways to make sure that textbooks, science classes and challenges are designed with the interests of teenage girls in mind.

My hope for the future is that we will have parity of women in all sciences across all levels of education. Quite simply, this leads to better science being done. The earliest signs of this will be a generation of teenage girls excited about pursuing careers in science leading to parity in the numbers of boys and girls doing science and math in high-school and beyond. We are getting closer but there is more work to do.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?

Both my Masters and PhD research, and most of the work I did in between, focused on understanding the effect of human disturbance on birds. I am particularly proud of my master’s work in the Brazilian Pantanal, where I worked with local fishermen, tour guides, cattle ranchers, and nonprofits to understand the economic benefits to the community of nesting colonies of wading birds (Wood Storks, Egrets, Spoonbills), and how to manage those biologically diverse sites so that the local people and tourists could benefit from them without disrupting the breeding birds. The final chapter of my thesis laid out in bullet form critical management recommendations for sustainable tourism in nesting colonies – not a usual format for a thesis chapter.

After graduation, I translated my thesis into Portuguese and took copies back to the communities where I had worked to share the insights hopeful of having some practical impact. But the real realization of the impact of my work came several years later when I visited a wading bird colony on a farm outside of Poconé in the Northern Pantanal as a tourist. Impressed by the sensitivity of our guides, the ranch “cowboys”, to not disturbing the birds we were viewing, I shared my pleasure with the farmer’s wife that evening at dinner. Proudly she told me about a set of guidelines she followed for how to manage tourism in nesting colonies, then pulled out a dog-eared copy of my thesis. It was the greatest validation I could hope for my work – to see it put into practice in a colony I had never before visited in a remote corner of the Pantanal. The State of Mato Grosso has since turned my thesis into a manual, distributed all over the region.

At, there have been many accomplishments I’m proud of but most recently it was leveraging our programs to support the communities we work with during the COVID19 pandemic. Waste workers are essential workers so those in our programs have continued working through quarantines. To ensure the safety of workers, we gathered best practices from across the world to develop multiple trainings on how to safely operate waste management with an ongoing contagion threat. To date, we have trained 450 workers across our two locations, and provided support for four national ministries including the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Village to share global health and safety best practices with over 600 waste management facilities across Indonesia.

In addition to access to PPE, we have supported waste workers and vulnerable communities in accessing food and health care. In Indonesia, we distributed over 4,000 meals to waste worker families along with full PPE provision and worked to ensure all of our workers are registered for national healthcare. In Argentina, we have provided tactical support to the local municipal government to distribute ~85,000 meals to residents in the informal settlement of Barrio 31. We have leveraged our communication channels, developed to drive recycling behavior, to help the government distribute health and safety information to residents of Barrio 31. And, we have been working with the local government, the International Red Cross (IRC) and Doctors Without Borders to establish a cohort of mobile diagnostic clinics across the Barrio to identify cases (e.g., taking temperatures of residents) and drive containment and quarantine efforts. The success of this last effort has led to the City of Buenos Aires to roll it out across all informal settlements in the city.

COVID’s Hidden Frontline in Indonesia

By: Ella Flaye, Regional Director – Asia

2020 has been an extraordinary year for all us – a year which feels like the world paused whilst it grapples with a global pandemic and the unknown. For many of us that means retreating back to the safety of our homes and waiting for the world to reopen, but for some that isn’t an option. For essential workers, including waste workers, their work must continue. Throughout our work in Indonesia, one thing is clear: waste workers are a hidden frontline to our COVID-19 pandemic. 

Waste workers in developing economies like Indonesia are often from highly marginalised social groups, where every day’s wage counts. Throughout Indonesia’s pandemic, we saw waste workers on the streets of the capital handling waste with their bare hands, no masks or goggles to be seen and no one to support them. Society takes little time to appreciate what they do for us and how they keep our homes and streets clean, but without them there would be chaos and widespread disease, not to mention the irreversible degradation to our environment. 

This is where we at Rethinking Recycling saw an opportunity to support the communities we work with by supporting and protecting their waste workers through these difficult times. With our partners, we rallied to provide head to toe protection, health and safety guidance and even the provision of meals to waste workers and their families hit hard by the crisis. 

During the height of the crisis this meant all workers at our pilot sites, as well as other neighboring sites, had ample supplies of helmets, goggles, masks, overalls and boots, and access to running water, soap and hand sanitizer to keep them protected every day.

Providing essential protection & economic relief for Waste Workers

At Rethinking Recycling we have a deep passion for education and capability building so we grasped this opportunity to deliver trainings and widely publicize materials to ensure everyone understood the importance of PPE, sanitation and social distancing for waste workers. Our guidance and training materials were picked up by our partners at the ministries of the environment, public works and villages and disseminated to over 70,000 villages across Indonesia. 

COVID-19 decimated Bali’s economy leaving many families, including waste workers, without a means to put food on the table. We provided over 4 thousand meals to waste workers, waste pickers and their families during the first lockdown in an attempt to make their lives just a little bit easier through those dark days. Through the Rethinking Recycling program we brought all wages up to minimum wage – a near 200% increase and we ensured access to healthcare and provided on the ground training and coaching. 

Our programs are not successful unless our workers are respected and proud of their work!

Establishing the Rethinking Recycling Academy

In September 2020 we launched our Rethinking Recycling Academy in Denpasar Bali. The program empowers communities with all the skills and tools they need to run a successful recycling program including access to funding, operational and financial management and very importantly worker’s wellbeing. As for many others, COVID has impacted our program – what was once destined to be an interactive on the ground program has evolved into a highly digitized remote learning academy through an ed-tech partnership with Quipper. Through training our first Academy cohort we hope to improve the livelihoods and create good green jobs for over 300 workers across Denpasar. Every waste worker counts. 

Together we can create a resilient, sustainable waste management ecosystem in Bali and beyond.

Building A New Path Forward in 2020 For Impact in Argentina

By: Cristina Domecq, Senior Associate, Behavior Change

Like so many nonprofits around the world, we began 2020 with big plans and high hopes for how we would reshape environmental and social systems across the world. As we know all too well now, 2020 would instead lay a path with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Our 2020 focus: Expanding Rethinking Recycling across Buenos Aires

Our Rethinking Recycling program in Buenos Aires’ Barrio 31, locally known as ‘ATR – A Todo Reciclaje’, had closed 2019 with a proven model for sustainable recycling programs in informal settlements. Over the course of one year, we had taken the new recycling service to the doorsteps of more than 20 thousand people, reaching participation rates of over 30% and diverting more than 120 tons of recyclables and organics. We built a community-run sorting center from scratch and created the first residential organics collection service in the city of Buenos Aires. As we leaped into January 2020, our team of community leaders, waste workers and sustainability experts were focused on expanding the ‘A Todo Reciclaje’ program to more than 40,000 people across the entire Barrio 31 neighborhood.

With a playbook for sustainable waste management in informal settlements through our Barrio 31 work, our team was also preparing to prove our model in a new context: in the mid-sized city of Olavarría. With sprawling parks and a lolling river valley in Buenos Aires Province, Olavarría notably has a long heritage as the cement industry capital of the region with engaged citizens and robust public services. In this new city and alongside the municipal government as partners, we made plans to launch our new program – to transform the end-to-end municipal waste system to optimize the recovery of recyclable and compostable materials back into productive use.

A new path forward: Our pivot in the pandemic

We were on the right track. And then our lives stopped, our programs stopped. However, our will to rethink the status quo and collaborate for a better world remained unstoppable.

After being pushed off the tracks like many others during the COVID-19 crisis, we started building a new path.

Our Argentina team focused on two goals:

  • First, collaborate with our existing partner, the city of Buenos Aires government, to help the community in Barrio 31 overcome the escalating crisis by repurposing our platform to provide COVID response;
  • Second, re-launch our Barrio 31 recycling programs safely, as soon as possible.

Barrio 31 COVID Response

Like many informal settlements around the world, Coronavirus precautions like social distancing and stay-at-home quarantining are nearly impossible in Barrio 31: families live side-by-side in cramped apartments, and count on daily work for food. In April and May, as the rest of the city of Buenos Aires sheltered in place and held COVID at bay, Barrio 31 and the city’s other slums made up nearly 50% of infected cases across the city.

Our dynamic, community-based model was able to shift rapidly to provide support to those who need it most, when they need it most. Given the immediate need to support Barrio 31’s community, we re-purposed our reach in the community to quickly deploy food, PPE, and health and safety training to essential workers and vulnerable communities alongside our government partner, the Secretariat for Social and Urban Integration (SISU)

During the early days of Buenos Aires’ shelter in place policy, we continued to digitally stand by the side of waste workers, who, despite fear and uncertainty, were as committed as ever to keeping the streets clean and their neighbors safe. While the rest of the city was on lockdown Barrio 31’s waste management services continued. We leveraged the program’s reach to share messages with Barrio 31’s neighbors on how to safely manage their waste, while also virtually training more than 400 waste workers in the Barrio 31 community on COVID-19 prevention measures. This training methodology seemed unthinkable before Covid but has proven safe and efficient, and will represent a scaling method we will continue to use after the pandemic.

The digital support and tools we provided allowed us to maintain a relationship that we had worked hard to build, providing both immediate COVID care and response, while enabling a smooth relaunch of the program later in September of 2020 as if it had never stopped.

Relaunching our program in Barrio 31

Neighbors and waste-workers in Barrio 31 had stopped recycling for over half a year and we needed to come back strong in order to remind them how relevant their actions were both for sustainability and the community’s wellbeing. First, we adapted the whole recycling journey and sorting operations making sure we complied with all COVID-19 prevention measures and led reinforcement and motivation sessions with over 200 waste workers. Then, we developed a campaign that included digital communications, posters on the streets and door to door communications issuing the invitation to “get re-hooked with saving the planet” to the homes and shops of Barrio 31.

Today, we are back on track, safely expanding the program to new areas of Barrio 31. We have incorporated three more cooperatives to A Todo Reciclaje (ATR), which means that 1,500 more households and over six thousand more people have access to three stream waste collection. Meanwhile, the ATR program has sparked the interest of governments, influencers and organizations, that, despite the situation, or maybe because of it, have recognized in ATR the potential to transform communities and improve recycling.

Expansion to Olavarría

The Olavarría program, named “GIRO” (which stands for Olavarría Integrated Waste Management in Spanish), is a 3-year program that kicked off in August 2020 to roll-out a recycling program across the entire city alongside the municipal government, residents and waste workers. Against a challenging backdrop of working with a globally dispersed team and social distancing protocols, the team managed to find creative ways to conduct community research to better understand residents’ waste experience and barriers to recycling and is now designing tailored solutions, which will be piloted in various neighborhoods starting in March 2021.

Looking ahead to 2021: Reimagining what’s possible

Doing a retrospection of what we have lived this past year, we can say that, despite all the difficult and uncertain moments, we’ve grown stronger.

The whole organization has made a huge effort to support each other and remain connected inside and outside the limits of Rethinking Recycling. We have had our ups and downs, but we exit 2020 excited with our old and new partnerships and friendships, thirsty for new adventures to face together.

We have been forced to rethink – and redesign, re-plan, re-challenge – who we are and what we do, and we feel more prepared than ever for whatever 2021 holds.

Breakthrough behavior change: lessons from Civic Response Team in India

By Shannon Bouton and Cynthia Shih

Sometimes modest adjustments to everyday habits can make an enormous difference. For COVID-19, wearing a mask, washing hands, and social distancing are our best hope of containing the pandemic. Condom use has been one of the most effective tools in reducing HIV transmission. In recycling, proper separation of waste materials at home preserves the value of those materials, enabling the entire recycling industry to function.

But lasting behavior change is also very hard to achieve, and most efforts fall far short of their goals. Developing a new habit always competes with other priorities, and often existing societal norms, environmental cues, and personal senses of identity serve as powerful motivators against change. In difficult socioeconomic contexts, where people face challenges meeting their basic daily needs like food, clean water, or physical safety, behavior change may be an even tougher ask.   

In the past, many NGOs took behavior change approaches from high-income countries and tried to apply them wholesale to middle- and low-income countries. Increasingly, however, organizations in emerging economies are developing behavior change strategies tailored to the people and communities they serve, achieving impressive results with a fraction of the funding and resources that wealthier countries spend on similar efforts. Earlier this year, countries such as Ghana and Vietnam emerged as global case studies in effective containment of COVID-19, using novel techniques such as drones to transport test samples from hard-to-reach areas, and crowd-sourcing “event-based” surveillance to focus contact tracing efforts. Such examples have much to teach the global community about how to effectively deploy behavior change programs and tools, especially in challenging socioeconomic contexts.

When we launched Rethinking Recycling in early 2018, we set out to explore and learn from community-driven behavior change programs around the globe. One exceptional organization we found was Civic Response Team (CRT) in India, part of a broader social impact firm that includes the Centre for Applied Research and People’s Engagement (CARPE) and EcoSattva Environmental Solutions. CRT has achieved durable changes in recycling behaviors in many municipalities (urban local bodies, or ULBs) across Maharashtra state. The insights CRT has shared about its approach have deeply informed Rethinking Recycling’s behavior change programs in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Bali, Indonesia. And we believe CRT’s approach holds important lessons for anyone looking to implement effective, rapid behavior change at scale for social impact.

Emphasizing motivation over information for more effective behavior change

Natasha Zarine and Gauri Mirashi, founders of CRT, on field in the early days of their pilot project

Like Rethinking Recycling, CRT’s aim is to increase recycling rates in local communities to divert as much waste from landfills (or worse, illegal dumping sites) as possible. For the economics of recycling to work, people need to separate out recyclable waste at home to keep it clean and preserve its value. Unfortunately, this is where most recycling systems struggle most; in 2018 China, the world’s largest recycling economy, stopped importing waste because contamination rates were too high. The culprits were primarily recycling programs in North America and Europe, where many cities only achieve 30-40% (or lower) of households correctly separating their waste, despite decades of education and awareness campaigns.

In India, CRT has reported getting 80% of households to separate waste correctly into wet and dry categories within two weeks of launching in a given community, and to 95% within the next two weeks. And according to CRT’s data monitoring, these results have also held across demographics and over time.

What is the secret of CRT’s success? We observed that CRT has shifted the focus from information to motivation: putting people’s personal experience of being part of a recycling effort at the heart of every aspect of the program. The following examples illustrate how CRT has embedded this motivation-above-all principle in every aspect of its programs: from the “why” to the “how” and the “who” of community waste management.

1) Create a compelling “why”: invest in activating residents’ emotional commitment to recycling.  

A resident shows off her correctly separated waste: dry recyclables and wet organic matter

Many recycling programs incorrectly assume that building awareness and providing information is enough to change behavior. In fact, residents who need to start separating waste at home have many reasons not to adopt this new habit, even if they are aware and understand what’s being asked of them. And while penalties for non-compliance like fines may work in some other parts of the world, these kinds of negative incentives are not feasible in India where CRT works. “The only way to engage with residents is to make them feel a sense of ownership,” explain CRT co-founders Natasha Zarine and Gauri Mirashi.

CRT’s insight is that while some barriers to behavior change are practical (for example, insufficient space within the home), the most important factor is social. When people sense a critical mass of buy-in for a new behavior in the community, and that adopting that behavior will be good for their social identity, they find creative ways to overcome other obstacles.

CRT’s insight: the most important factor in behavior change is social. When people sense that adopting a behavior will be good for their social identity, they find creative ways to overcome other obstacles

With this in mind, CRT works with each community and its governing body to ensure its behavior change campaigns resonate emotionally with locals and create a sense of shared commitment. Since recycling is often a “hidden” behavior that people perform in the privacy of their homes, CRT brings recycling into public spaces and widely consumed media: for example, by tapping college and high school students to stage high-energy rallies and flash mobs. Catchy local phrases reinforce the pro-recycling message and make recycling a part of daily life, and are featured at local events and festivities, even jingles on local radio and mobile ringtones. Many of these efforts are aimed at young people, who are still forming the habits that they will carry throughout life, to help foster a positive and inspiring identity around recycling.

Through repeated implementation across many municipalities, CRT has also developed pattern recognition for what needs to be tailored to each community and what can be replicated wholesale from elsewhere. In one city renowned for its mango production, for example, CRT made the program mascot a mango dancing to a catchy recycling song, set to the tune of a Bollywood hit. But some elements can be used again and again across an entire region, saving valuable time and resources. For example, CRT uses a hand symbol and catchphrase (“taka-tak”) as universal shorthand for its recycling program, after finding they were memorable and quickly adopted by each new community without further customization.

2) Bring the “how” to life: use hands-on recycling demonstrations and ongoing cues through collection service.

Municipal staff and CRT lead an in-street education event for residents

Once people are inspired to adopt a new behavior, they need first-hand knowledge and supportive cues to put it into practice. For recycling, this means providing practical education on how to separate waste at home – and, just as importantly, integrating this behavior change with the waste collection service itself. 

To that end, when CRT helps launch a municipality’s recycling program, it works with waste collectors to host street events along their collection routes. These include live demonstrations of how to separate household waste into the appropriate categories, using actual waste that people bring out from their homes. Through this hands-on learning experience, recycling goes from an abstract concept to a tactile experience, something people can easily picture themselves incorporating into their daily routines.

After initial launch, the design of the collection service reinforces the behavior change. Here the emerging-economy setting plays to CRT’s advantage. In most higher-income countries, recycling programs rely on standardized, different colored bins to prompt residents to keep waste separated, with mixed results and at high equipment cost. In Maharashtra, most households have someone at home throughout the day, and residents bring their waste out to the collector for pickup. This creates a regular human touchpoint as they work to build a new habit; each collection stop provides an opportunity for residents to ask questions and get helpful tips on how to separate waste correctly, thus creating a positive feedback loop that sustains compliance over time.

Waste collectors host street events along their collection routes, including live demonstrations using actual waste that people bring out from their homes. Recycling goes from an abstract concept to a tactile experience

Waste workers themselves become more motivated through these hands-on education activities for residents, since they vividly illustrate the importance of their own work and how it connects them to real people in the community. According to sanitation supervisors who have worked with CRT, after these community education efforts, waste collection workers were significantly more engaged in their work, and 81% reported better relations with residents. 

3) Highlight the “who”: make every waste worker a recycling ambassador.

Waste workers take a tea break

CRT recognized early on that local waste management staff are the face of the recycling effort, and therefore critical to building credibility and fostering behavior change in the community. Waste collectors who visibly keep waste clean and separated are sending a clear signal to residents: when you make the effort to recycle correctly, the sanitation department upholds its end of the bargain. Workers who can speak knowledgeably about which kinds of waste go where, and educate residents on mistakes they observe when picking up waste, are serving two purposes: they improve recycling behaviors and the value of recovered materials, and they signal that someone is paying attention to what each household is doing, reinforcing the message that everyday behaviors matter.

Workers who can speak knowledgeably and educate residents are serving two purposes: they improve the value of recovered materials, and they reinforce the message that everyday behaviors matter

When working with waste management staff, CRT goes well beyond traditional capacity building. Its deep investment in worker capabilities includes training in leadership skills, public speaking, team building and problem solving, design thinking, and techniques for community partnership building and resident engagement. This holistic curriculum empowers workers to become respected and skilled change agents in the community, and to find their own creative solutions to challenges and setbacks throughout implementation of the recycling program. After CRT hands off the program to municipalities, they continue to perform well in the national Swachh Survekshan annual assessment of cleanliness and sanitation. 

CRT also fosters a motivating work environment for waste workers. One example is the “lucky draw.” In one municipality, after an initially successful launch, the volume of dry recyclables like paper, plastic, and glass coming into the sorting facility began dropping. As an experiment, the CRT team introduced a “lucky draw” incentive system, where individual waste workers could earn chances to win valuable prizes like cookware and bed linens by improving residents’ waste separation in their collection zones. (Through trial and error, CRT found that a randomized “lucky draw” among high performers works better than a straight “top performers” award, which incentivizes workers to question the fairness or accuracy of the ranking.) More dry recyclables began coming in on municipal collection vehicles again – and the incentive program served the dual purpose of improving the municipal staff’s relations with informal waste pickers, who worked at the sorting facility and were able to recover and sell more recyclables. 

Together, such efforts have resulted in waste workers in CRT’s programs reporting a 94% uptick in better understanding of their roles and 75% increase in their ability to problem-solve. In Rethinking Recycling’s programs in Indonesia and Argentina, we have also invested in deep training and performance-based incentives for our partners in the recycling workforce.

A template for broader social impact

As CRT’s methodology shows, focusing on motivation – in awareness campaigns, designing collection service and how-to education, and building worker capabilities – can yield dramatic results for recycling outcomes. And it disproves the often-held assumption that people won’t adopt recycling behaviors in low-income countries because they have “bigger things to worry about.” In fact, when provided with low-cost supports and reinforcing mechanisms, communities and workers in emerging economies can significantly outperform those in wealthier countries when it comes to forming good recycling habits.

Recycling is also emblematic of behavior change challenges in social impact more generally. Separating waste at home is a habit that requires consistent, ongoing practice, with benefits that are largely invisible to the person changing behavior, and which competes with many other urgent priorities. Just as organizations working on public health issues like HIV, vaccination, and teen pregnancy have contributed a great deal to our knowledge about effective behavior change globally, environmental sustainability organizations like CRT are bringing new insights that have broad applicability. 

What other issues have invisible behaviors that could be modeled more publicly? What other habits are tied to a service with regular touchpoints? Where else could we invest more deeply in front-line workers?

What other issues have “invisible” behaviors that could be modeled and celebrated more publicly, in locally meaningful ways? What other necessary habits are tied to a service with regular touchpoints, that could be used for hands-on demonstrations and reinforcing feedback? Where else could we invest more deeply in elevating front-line workers to become respected ambassadors of the cause, who are rewarded and recognized for their successes?

The Civic Response Team, The Center for Applied Research and People’s Engagement & EcoSattva Environmental Solutions Pvt Ltd. are sister organizations that provide evidence driven systemic solutions to pervasive civic challenges with multiple government, industry, community partners. For more information, visit or

Rethinking Recycling Academy brings partners to the table to provide a holistic and empowering solution to address the growing waste crisis in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s waste crisis is at a tipping point. 

“We are experiencing overflowing landfills. The height of the waste that is piling up is 7 times the size of our most sacred temple.” Dhia Fani, a Rethinking Recycling associate, told attendees last week as partners and friends gathered to celebrate the digital launch of the Rethinking Recycling Academy. Dhia has seen first hand the impact of the waste crisis, “when I swim in the ocean, it gives me anxiety, because I am not sure if I am swimming next to a jellyfish or if it is transparent plastic. For me it might just be being scared of a jellyfish, but for the community, the impact is on the quality of food and the fish we eat”. The plastic Dhia refers to stems from uncollected waste that then ends up in rivers or the environment and eventually in the oceans creating not just an environmental crisis, but a health crisis. 

In early 2019, and partners launched Desa Kedas (Clean Village), a pilot program aimed at reimaging recycling systems in Bali. Working alongside community leaders and waste workers, Desa Kedas re-engineered a community owned recycling and composting center that is now green, financially self-sustaining, operationally optimized and delivers significant benefits for the workers, the environment and the community at large.

It takes a village to scale impact 

Building on the success of Desa Kedas and in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we launched the Rethinking Recycling Academy pilot program, in order to provide the necessary tools and resources to empower communities across Indonesia to replicate the Desa Kedas model and drive their own recycling journey. Together with our partners we have created a holistic approach to addressing the waste crisis to deliver good jobs, sustainable infrastructure and community driven recycling programs to create win-win solutions for people and our planet.

Yumi Nishikawa who works on the Plastic-smart cities initiative at the World Wildlife Fund says it’s important to find “real-life examples that can show people that there is an uncomplicated solution to our waste problem and that it’s not impossible…we want to change behaviors and systems that are not working right now or that can be further optimized.” Yumi’s hope for the Rethinking Recycling Academy is that it is a solution that can be scaled across the region. 

“The evolution of our work in Bali has demonstrated that this is truly a village and it takes a village to solve our waste crisis. Every partner has brought their own unique approach and experience and together all of this thinking and passion has made the academy a truly holistic solution to sustainable waste management” said Rethinking Recycling’s Executive Director Shannon Bouton. Over the past year and a half, we’ve worked alongside waste workers, community leaders, local organizations and industry players to lay the groundwork for a waste ecosystem where people and our planet can thrive. 

Our “village” is made up of our Academy partners and friends. Together we are building a platform and pathway towards a resilient waste ecosystem in Indonesia. 

We invite you to join our village and our community as we reimagine our future and the future of sustainable waste management systems. 

To get involved you can sign-up for our newsletter to hear about our solutions in both Argentina and Indonesia and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

COVID is a crisis for our oceans, too

By Jacob Batchelor with contribution from Shannon Bouton.

You drink a bottle of water. Use a plastic fork for takeout. Toss a single-use mask. Each of these individual acts are small, seemingly harmless. But taken collectively, it adds up. To a lot. 

“Somewhere around 11 million metric tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean each year,” says Shannon Bouton who leads the Rethinking Recycling initiative as Global Executive Director of Sustainable Communities at “That works out to more than a full dump truck of plastic, every minute of every day.” 

Rethinking Recycling, the flagship program of the Firm-founded nonprofit, is working to address this problem by partnering with everyone from waste workers to multinational companies to increase recycling around the world. McKinsey News spoke to Shannon to learn more—and how the challenge has only increased since the start of the pandemic. 

Jacob: Can you give us a sense of the scale of the plastic problem in our oceans? 

Shannon: Pew recently released a report saying that—without action—the 11 million metric tonnes per year will about triple by 2040. Someone did the math, and that’s equivalent to 110 pounds, or 50 kilograms, of plastic waste per meter of coastline around the world. 

Landfill just outside of Bali’s capital city Denpassar. It’s currently at capacity.

Jacob: I’ll try to imagine that the next time I’m at the beach. 

Shannon: It’s terrible. If we stay on this course, plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050. You can already see sea life, from birds to whales, washing up on beaches with bellies full of it.  

And unfortunately, all that plastic doesn’t go away. It breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics. And microplastics are everywhere—in the deepest parts of the ocean, in remote deserts, even inside us. 

Jacob: That sounds bad—how much should I be worried?

Shannon: We don’t really know if plastic itself is necessarily harmful. But it does act like a magnet for other toxins in the environment. Things like coloring and additives for texture may also be dangerous, and they also make plastics more difficult to recycle. 

One example is the stuff that makes your water bottle crinkle, which marketers have figured out is a desirable thing for consumers. If we could align on just removing those, plastic would be easier to recycle and more valuable to recyclers. Presumably, less of it would end up in the ocean.  

Jacob: How has the problem of ocean plastics worsened because of the pandemic? 

Shannon: The scary thing is that we don’t really know yet. But medical waste was already a huge problem before the pandemic. Hospitals and other health facilities generate several billion pounds of garbage each year, fueled by a shift toward the use of disposable items to keep sterilization simple.

Anecdotally, we’ve seen photos of disposable masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer bottles left behind in parking lots and streets. A lot of that kind of waste winds up in the sea as it travels down drain pipes and into waterways. The Guardian recently reported that PPE is already washing up in the Mediterranean, where a bystander described there being “more masks than jellyfish.”

But we can fix this. Healthcare companies can reduce the use of disposables and use more recyclable materials, which can decrease costs. We can make more reusable items safe for medical settings. The general public could use reusable masks and be more mindful of where and how they dispose of their PPE waste. 

Jacob: That brings me to my next question—what do we do about ocean plastics overall? 

The Pew study I mentioned earlier has a number of pathways by which we could reduce the amount of plastic going into our ocean by 80 percent in the next 20 years. Things like reducing how much plastic we produce; designing recycling-friendly products; and improving waste collection, among others. 

At, we focus most on waste collection and recycling through our Rethinking Recycling program.

In Bali, for example, we partnered with community leaders to build a profitable waste management and recycling center in just 4 months. So we’re doing good for the environment, but we’re also doing good for people—helping create dignified, safe jobs for essential waste workers, with access to healthcare, job training, and fair wages. 

Jacob: Why focus on a community-based recycling program, as opposed to ocean cleanup? 

Shannon: First and foremost, we have to reduce, reuse, and recycle if we want to stop the flow of our trash into waterways. Ocean cleanups are simply a band-aid on a systemic problem. That’s why our program is focused on addressing the problem at the source, helping communities to properly manage their waste and get it back into the economy—so that it never ends up on a beach.

Essential waste workers from Buenos Aires’ Barrio 31 who champion recycling in their community as a way to keep their communities clean and safe. Their neighbors participate in the program knowing that recycling delivers the women increased incomes from sales of plastics.

Recycling works most effectively at the community level, where you can educate people, build community pride, and foster a sense of common purpose. People feel responsible for their neighborhood, not necessarily the larger city. So it’s important to start there.

Jacob: How have you been able to do those things in Bali? 

Shannon: We work closely with the community to educate and build the right incentives for people to recycle, including making sure they know it will be effective. For the essential workers, we put a lot of energy into capability-building—our  friends at Aberkyn even volunteered their time to come in and do the kind of leadership training usually reserved for senior clients

Jacob: How can folks get involved?

Shannon: The most immediate thing people can do is take a look at their own community and see how they can increase recycling where they are. Learn the rules of what can and can’t be recycled locally and follow them. Putting the wrong stuff in your recycling bin adds cost and can gum up the machines. What we call “hopeful recycling”—putting everything you think might be recyclable into the bin—is not helpful.

From climate change to COVID-19 and racial equity, we live at a time of real consequence and change. But we all have the ability to make a difference, for our planet and for each other. Each little action you take may feel small. But if everyone is doing it, it adds up. 

Audio: Harnessing the ingenuity and resilience of global youth can help save the Ocean

Solving for a clean ocean starts on land

The world has a profound waste problem. As global citizens, we generate at least 3.5 million tons of plastic and other waste in just one day. What’s more, we know that at least 11 million tons of plastic waste leaks into our ocean each year. If we want to stem the tide of waste into the ocean, we need to start on land. 

At, we are solving for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water, by tackling the waste ecosystem and mobilizing every player in the process – from waste pickers to global multinational companies, from village leaders to state governors – to work together to rethink recycling.  And while that’s become more complex during COVID-19, with lockdown orders and economic slowdown buckling supply chains, we see hope in the innovation and ingenuity that today’s youth are using to tackle the challenge of protecting our ocean.

Highlighting young people innovating for change

To highlight the crucial role youth play in protecting our ocean, last week we hosted, Reimagining Ocean Action, in partnership with the United Nations and GreenBiz to showcase youth global innovation. During the event, we welcomed four inspiring young innovators that are developing new solutions to protect our ocean and our planet: Dhia Fani, whose work on Rethinking Recycling focuses on re-engineering local waste systems and training waste workers, Lalita Junggee, whose work focuses on the connection of clean oceans to gender equality; Sarah Travers, who uses GPS and data to track and encourage sustainable fishing; and Chiagozie Udeh, who studies climate’s connection to the Ocean through investments in biodiversity. The innovators were also joined by leading conservation experts, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Ambassador Peter Thomson and our Global Executive Director of Sustainable Communities, Shannon Bouton. Together, the group shared their hopes for a future clean ocean and how individuals and organizations could continue their commitments during COVID19. 

Throughout the conversation, one thing became abundantly clear: human ingenuity has a way of overcoming obstacles to create new solutions for issues and COVID19 is no different.

“While the way all of us collectively deliver impact has taken a new form over the past few months, I have been inspired by what has emerged— our ingenuity, our resilience and our continued commitment to saving our ocean,” said Shannon Bouton 

All four of the young innovators illustrated Bouton’s point as they shared their continued commitment to find new solutions. We invite you to listen to a recording of the event above and learn about their work through their presentations below. 

Meet the innovators 

Sarah Travers is solving fishing’s sustainability problem.

Sarah Travers is the Conservation and Outreach Manager at ConnectOcean and a United Nations’ Reboot Ocean Winner. According to Ambassador Thomson, sustainable fishing is “the future of food” and Sarah is working to make that possible through an innovative approach using GPS and data to track and encourage sustainable fishing. You can learn more about Sarah’s groundbreaking work here.

Dhia Fani is designing new ways to divert waste from landfills. 

Growing up in Indonesia has shaped Dhia’s view of the global plastic problem, as she noted she sometimes mistakes plastic for jellyfish when swimming in the ocean. Her passion has led her to work with as a Senior Associate on our Rethinking Recycling program. Dhia recently spoke about her work on the Sustainable Asia podcast with others from the team. You can listen here

Lalita Junggee is reimaging consumer goods so they are more sustainable.

Lalita is the Founder of Eco Hustle and is one of the Obama Foundation’s Young African Leaders. Lalita’s first sustainable innovation was the creation of Sakili – a line of upcycled bags that uses sustainable printing practices. Her newest project, Recycle Moi, is creating the first natural and biodegradable sanitary pads in Mauritius. She encourages entrepreneurs to explore new ideas, because you never know what will be successful until you try. Learn more about her work through the Obama Young Leaders’ program here

Chiagozie Udeh is making it easier for all of us to support biodiversity. 

Chiagozie was the 2019 Global South Focal Point of YOUNGO, the Youth Constituency to the UNFCCC. He is now focusing his time on a new app, Plant for the Planet. As Chairperson, he is working to expand the reach of the app and inspire others to get involved. As he says, “anybody can plant a tree.” During the event, Ambassador Thomson noted that mangrove trees can store twice as much carbon on a per-area basis as salt marshes. Chia shared that the app will soon allow for individuals to support planting mangroves. Stay tuned and plant a tree here

Ambassador Peter Thomson, also inspired by the youth innovators, called on all the young people on the call to get involved and take a stake in protecting our ocean. 

“Political will builds up from individuals, to families, to communities, to cities, up to the national and global level. But everybody needs to get involved, especially young people, you have more skin in the game than anybody else.”  –  Ambassador Peter Thomson

A special thank you to our innovators, Heather Clancy from GreenBiz for moderating the panel, and Ambassador Peter Thomson. 

To learn more about our upcoming events, sign-up for our e-newsletter here.

Podcast: Sustainable Asia’s Plastic Purge in Bali was honored to be featured on the Sustainable Asia podcast.

Bali’s natural beauty attracts many tourists from around the world, but with that comes plastic waste…a lot of it! Sustainable Asia speaks with to understand how they developed a plastic bottle recycling pilot program in Bali… that may change the course of waste collection and recycling across all of Indonesia.

Shannon Bouton 
Ella Flaye
Abieta Billy
Dhia Fani

Production credits:
Producer and Host: Marcy Trent Long 
Associate producer: YuFei Wu
Sound Engineer: Chris Wood
Intro/outro music: Alex Mauboussin

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