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Project STOP: A way out of the waste problem

We are all familiar with images of children playing on garbage-strewn beaches or turtles that have mistaken plastic waste for food. More than half of all (plastic) waste in the sea comes from just five countries in Asia, including Indonesia. The reason? These countries have no or poorly functioning waste management systems.

That’s why people have to deposit their trash in front of their house, in their garden or simply leave it on the beach. What the tide doesn’t claim in good time is then incinerated. And the consequences are massive – for health, quality of life, local jobs and for the environment.

Source: Waste Characterization Study Muncar, © Project STOP

“You just can’t imagine how much it stinks”, says Dorothea Wiplinger, Sustainability & Project Manager STOP at Borealis, recalling her first trip to Muncar, a small fishing harbor in Indonesia. “The waste attracts vermin, children play on the beach between mountains of trash, people haven’t seen the sand there for decades”.

The fisherman talk of how the waste in the sea destroys the engines of their boats, how fish stocks are dwindling, and how they are losing their jobs as a consequence. Tourism too, an important source of income, is steadily declining. “We’re talking about genuine existential problems and that’s something you really need to be aware of”, says Dorothea. Improving this situation has become the mission of Project STOP, a program launched by Borealis and SYSTEMIQ in 2017.

Solving the waste problem step by step

The first thing was to hire waste collectors, we put waste bins in the streets and the waste collected is now brought to the local sorting facility. In parallel door-to-door trainings were held, to explain to the local residents how to sort their waste properly.

This means that we really started with the basics at the same time as putting in place the infrastructure needed for waste collection and sorting”, explains Dorothea Wiplinger. Five new sorting facilities have sprung up under Project STOP – including the largest plant in the whole of Indonesia – and around 170 new jobs have been created to date. 

The next step is about making the system economically viable: On the one hand, households get charged a small service fee and on the other the sorted waste is sold to recycling firms. Both help covering the running costs and the latter also promotes a circular economy – a topic that is at the top of the agenda of plastics producer Borealis: “The percentage of materials than end up in landfill should keep getting smaller. The materials should be recycled so that they can remain in circulation for as long as possible.

The goal of Project STOP is to fight the waste problem at its source: Introducing waste management systems in the countries most severely affected and making sure they can function sustainably and be financially viable long-term. 
Dorothea Wiplinger, Sustainability & Project STOP Manager, Borealis

But Project STOP is thinking even further ahead: “Our stated aim is to get the system on a solid financial footing, one that can be sustained”. This should include, for example, financial support from the local authorities. And companies who bring plastics products to market must take responsibility by making a financial contribution to the disposal of their products.

Dorothea describes the start of the project: “We quickly realized that if we really want to establish systems that can continue to exist after Project STOP is over, then we need to engage at every level – beach-cleaning drives or awareness campaigns don’t do much by themselves. You have to look at the system as a whole and improve it. And: We have to be there, on the ground! This isn’t a project that you can conceive on a drawing board. You have to cooperate closely with the responsible institutions and the authorities”.

Celebrating joint success

In the meantime, the mentality in Muncar has changed, when it comes to waste disposal. Dorothea Wiplinger recalls: “Garbage collection used to be associated with the poorest of the poor. Now it has become a respected job. And after we spent a day cleaning part of the beach together with the local residents, removing around 5,000 tons of waste, you could feel the sand beneath your feet for the first time in years – more than enough reason to throw a party and celebrate”.


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