To answer the research question, "How have successful projects around the world sustainably solved the toughest challenges in low funded waste systems?" we are launching a lean multi-country research effort interviewing and visiting successful circular waste initiatives in India, Columbia, Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia to deconstruct how successful waste interventions tackled multiple interlocking challenges to become successful. This approach involves first deconstructing activities required across the waste value chain and then identifying the most common bottlenecks organizations face that hinder each step. We will then pair these bottlenecks with proven tactics these "unicorn" organizations have used to unblock them, while also taking into account the unique environmental/regulatory/financial/human dynamics that made each tactic appropriate in a given city-country archetype. Next, a decision matrix will be built, concentrating on the most important drivers of success that determine the best tactics in the right sequence to solve root cause challenges in similar environments – i.e., a flight path to help organizations in the field like ours solve common constraints quickly and sustainably.
Clean, circular waste system pilots
From July to September 2017, Vital Ocean founders, Joi and Dini, conducted a successful pilot assessment for SYSTEMIQ and Borealis, testing the concept of "system-enabler" partnerships with city governments - in which a hands-on "swat team" will support cities to transition their existing waste management system into a cleaner, more circular and zero-leakage waste system with increasing rates of plastics recycling, job creation in new after-use economies and public health benefits.The first city partnership will be launched in 2018, driven and co-funded with local and global partners, led by Borealis who announced a EUR 4 million commitment at the Our Oceans Conference in Malta to accelerate waste management system improvements in South-East Asia.
With guidance from high-impact US nonprofit, the Recycling Partnership, these “swat” teams of local and international experts work with local waste stakeholders (e.g., government, waste operators, NGOs, and others) to co-design, and then implement financially sustainable, environmentally sound, circular waste systems. Local businesses (and informal waste pickers) are supported and integrated into the business model rather, and investment is given to jump-start new business models or scale existing ones.
Recommendations to policy, funding and market decision makers
We aim to become a trusted coordinator to bring together global decision makers including governments, multilateral organizations, development finance and other investors, and the private sector, with frontline waste entrepreneurs and local nonprofits and civil society organizations. This way, decision makers are provided robust recommendations based on lessons learned in the field and have closer involvement on the frontline of ocean plastic curtailment, to truly know which policy and funding levers will provide the greatest impact for true systemic change where it matters most. Ideally frontline initiatives will also have access to decision makers and to simpler funding to enable their efforts to scale faster. Only working together bottom up and top down can waste stakeholders effectively unlock the multiple bottlenecks of waste management needed.
Tools and tactics for changemakers
Our mission is to build a coordinated movement to sustainably reduce ocean plastic pollution by 50% by 2025. To build this movement, we aim to develop and communicate valuable, proven tools and tactics to help waste and ocean plastic changemakers setup their own initiatives and successfully scale existing ones. To this end, we will codify proven lessons learned from our field research and city partnership pilot work and develop free knowledge toolkits, research, and data. Solutions will be communicated in a number of formats, allowing for a broader audience to gain utility from this work. This support will be centered around an online "Knowledge hub" that:
Collates and shares tested solutions and best practices for quick knowledge transfer, including a "circular waste change-maker toolkit"
Connects our teams and network of experts with other organizations for real-time problem solving and resource sharing
Builds an ocean plastic, circular waste community
Helps the private sector and global marine debris leadership connect with local projects needing support
Platform features will start small and then become more sophisticated over time as the program grows and the need for extra features is firmly established. As a starting point, we've gathered hundreds of recent journal articles and white papers on ocean plastic and circular waste systems from around the world to help others get up to speed fast in the Library as well as ocean plastic photo sharing in the Gallery.