We are empowering communities to build green, inclusive and economic recycling systems
The world is facing a profound waste crisis. Landfills are overflowing, methane emissions from organic waste are dangerously accelerating climate change, and every year 11 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans – largely from emerging economies, where 2 billion people have no access to waste management. Solving this crisis requires rapid expansion of waste management coverage and recycling markets, alongside a deeper redesign of how we consume.
Our flagship program Rethinking Recycling builds rapidly scalable, self-sustaining recycling ecosystems in emerging economies, including solutions for plastics and organic waste. We help communities create highly productive, financially attractive, integrated waste management systems that serve everyone. We then connect the resulting supply of high-quality recyclables to demand from corporate and industry players, to help achieve their circular economy goals. By 2030, we aim to be a global leader in green, inclusive, and economic recycling, with our approach replicated in 10+ countries around the world.
In 2019, we launched proof-of-concept pilots in Argentina and Indonesia to test and refine our approach. By working in two global regions at once, we have learned lessons and design principles applicable across emerging economies, as well as how to adapt solutions to local contexts. These pilots, while small-scale (several thousand households), have achieved exciting recycling outcomes in a short time, and enjoy strong support from the local communities and waste workers alike.
We are now scaling up our programs in both geographies, with plans to expand to new countries in the coming years.
Our Indonesia Program
Our vision is to transform the waste management ecosystems of hundreds of communities across Indonesia, delivering not only recycling but also effective and affordable waste collection services to millions, often for the first time.
Through transforming community-based recycling and composting facilities built by the Ministry of Public Works, called TPS3Rs, we will put the waste of millions of Indonesians back into productive use and keep it out of the oceans. The vast majority of these TPS3Rs lie idle today, leaving communities to burn or dump mixed waste in unmanaged landfills, with disastrous consequences for the environment and public health. This situation is common across Southeast Asia, which has drawn attention for the severity of its waste crisis – ocean plastic leakage in particular.
Our programs empower communities to build economically sustainable, highly productive recycling systems that provide dignified livelihoods, attracting partnership and investment from industry players and global brands. By 2025, we aim to be in 200+ communities, serving over 5 million people.
Desa Kadas (Clean village)
In 2019 we launched our first pilot in Indonesia, in a Desa or urban village called Sanur Kauh in Bali’s capital city Denpasar. In under six months, the village’s TPS3R went from loss-making to financially self-sustaining – while quadrupling service coverage, transforming recycling and composting productivity, and doubling workers’ wages, as well as providing them access to critical social programs such as healthcare.
Today Desa Sanur Kauh serves as a demonstration and learning site as part of the Rethinking Recycling Academy. We are working to integrate independent waste collectors, continue improving the community’s recycling behaviors, and make institutional changes to enable long-term financial stability and success of the TPS3R. The Sanur Kauh TPS3R has been celebrated by Indonesian ministries and heralded as the gold standard for community-driven waste management.
The Rethinking Recycling Academy
Building off the success of Desa Kedas, in September 2020 the Rethinking Recycling Academy launched with its first cohort of six villages in Denpasar, Bali, which will transform their waste management ecosystems to bring recycling services to 130,000 people. The Academy uses an innovative hybrid of digitally-delivered capability building (enabling progress even during the COVID-19 pandemic), on-the-ground implementation support, and access to up-front capital and legislative support. This combination enables community leaders and TPS3R operators to quickly ramp up service coverage, deliver affordable waste and recycling services, and achieve financial stability.
We are now preparing for the launch of more cohorts in other parts of Bali. Working with partners, we aim to expand the Academy to other parts of Indonesia, adapting our model to work for rural island areas and other new contexts. As we scale, we are also working to connect the new supply of recyclables generated by Academy graduates to industry demand through transparent, ethical supply chains, enabling much needed investments in downstream processing capacity. We also plan to leverage the tools and approaches developed by the Academy for scaling our programs in Latin America, and launching in other countries in Southeast Asia in the coming years.
Our Argentina Program
Our vision for Argentina is to support the creation of a strong circular economy by helping to create rapidly scalable, self-sustaining waste management ecosystems in multiple clusters of cities across the country in the years to come. While doing so we hope to not only impact the lives of the communities we serve but also improve the livelihoods of over 100,000+ waste workers and recycling entrepreneurs that our projects touch.
ATR Barrio 31
A Todo Reciclaje (ATR) is our proof-of-concept pilot program for establishing community-led waste management in informal settlements. In Barrio Mugica (formerly Barrio 31), a ~40,000-resident informal community in the center of Buenos Aires, we partner with city staff as well as with the 13 labor cooperatives active in the community, to provide waste and recycling collection services.
Barrio 31 residents and shops now receive reliable recycling and waste management service, including the first residential organics collection service anywhere in the City of Buenos Aires. 30% of the Barrio population with access to this service recycles on a regular basis – a rate higher than many U.S. cities. The sorting facility is operated jointly by the labor cooperatives, and the sale of recyclables provides supplementary income to workers in a time of economic and public health crises. ATR has drawn accolades as a best-practice example for inclusive urban transformation, and remains a showcase of our work for stakeholders in Argentina and beyond.
Our second Argentina pilot launched this year in the Municipality of Olavarría, population ~120,000, where we are co-developing a model for transforming recycling and composting at the full-city scale. Called GIRO (Gestión Integral de Residuos Olavarría), this pilot aims to achieve material recovery rates comparable to leading cities globally, through a combination of community and worker engagement, collection service changes, infrastructure set-up, and business model innovation. Our goal is for GIRO to become the “go-and-see” example as we scale to other municipalities, and to act as an anchor supplier of recyclables for industry in Argentina.
Scaling across Argentina and Latin America
Building on GIRO and ATR, we aim to partner with other like-minded organizations to scale our solutions nationwide in the years to come. One of our recently formalized partnerships is with Red Innovacion Local (RIL), a network of 100+ cities in Argentina. We hope to assist RIL in enhancing the capabilities of Argentinian cities by co-designing, piloting, institutionalizing and scaling waste management solutions to realize measurable impact within the next 1-3 years. As a first step towards delivering this objective, we have launched a survey to assess the maturity of waste infrastructure of cities in Argentina, which we will use to guide our approach as we work with cohorts of cities to adopt recycling solutions. Furthermore, we are exploring partnership opportunities with demand-side players including plastics processors, consumer goods companies and logistics companies. In the years to come, we will also start pursuing opportunities to launch our solutions in neighboring countries in Latin America.