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Tackling Marine Debris in SE Asia: A Recycling Tale

by Jason Hale

Can recycling save the world? You bet. Part of it, at very least.

As you may have heard, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Modern packaging is streaming into our waterways at an alarming rate, from every coastal country and especially from Southeast Asia.

Can we clean it up? Partially. The material breaks down fairly quickly in the water and under the sun, meaning it gets smaller and smaller, making it nearly impossible to capture it all. Plus, it just keeps coming, making clean-ups a never-ending stopgap.

Should we clean it up? Absolutely, but not as the primary solution. Look at it this way: when air leaks out of a tire, you don’t try to capture the air, you plug the leak.

So, what’s causing the leak? Mainly it’s communities across the world that don’t have formal waste and recycling services. Few to no landfills. Very little recycling. No easy solutions for residents, businesses or industry. When you have no options, you do your best, so people put their waste in local rivers, which take it away from their families, neighborhoods, and communities. Clean streets, dirty oceans.

Imagine if those communities had formal recycling of all materials that are leaking out. No more marine debris. Fewer health issues. No more problem. Just a bit of clean-up and mitigation and a lot of pride.

Project STOP, run by global b-corp SYSTEMIQ, is a privately-funded initiative to bring circular, zero leakage waste systems to communities in Indonesia and beyond. Much like The Recycling Partnership, Project STOP will codify learnings, streamline approaches, and partner with governments to spread responsible systems far and wide. The local people win, as do our oceans.

Seeing as much of the Project STOP approach will mirror the Partnership’s, this past spring I went out to work on this initiative in Muncar, Indonesia, on the island of Java. It was utterly life-changing, but all rooted in the same kind of work we do at home in the U.S. From data collection to processing, markets to marketing, an international project team created a model for economically and efficiently providing recycling, waste and composting. That model is now being launched and is showing promise. Every journey begins with a first step, and this is a big one.

What can you do to help? Start locally, making sure that every last bottle, can, carton, container, and piece of paper in your community is handled responsibly at end of life. That way, you’re helping plug the global leak.

As for me and Southeast Asia, I found the work so engaging, so important, that I’ve elected to join it full time. The second STOP city is lined up, and the third is in our sites. If you find yourself in Bali, look me up. I’ll be based in Canggu, partnering for change, transforming the world for good.

Don’t you just love recycling?