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Fighting for Trash Free Seas®

Ending the flow of trash at the source

Solutions to Plastic Pollution Through Inclusive Recycling (SPPIRe)

In many parts of the world most impacted by plastic pollution, local governments don’t have the resources to collect and manage all the waste and plastic generated. If items are not recycled or reused, they may be burned, end up in landfill or in the environment. It is estimated that 2 billion people do not have access to organized waste collection services. Unfortunately, that means vast amounts of uncollected plastic and other types of pollution wash into sewers and through waterways into the ocean.

Empower Informal Sector Waste Collectors

Informal sector waste collectors, also called waste pickers or recyclers, spend all or part of their workday in the community collecting items considered waste that can be recycled and resold for (an often small) income. Globally, it is estimated that there are 15-20 million informal waste collectors, primarily in low-to-middle-income economies where, without them, there would be no recycling at all. Not only do collectors provide a valuable public service but they also help protect our ocean by ensuring waste is properly disposed of.

Ocean Conservancy first highlighted the importance of waste collectors in our 2019 report The Role of Gender in Waste Management. In our Plastics Policy Playbook (2019), Ocean Conservancy and our partners called for inclusion of the informal sector as a prerequisite for the success of any plastic waste management policy in countries where they have a significant presence.

A 2020 scoping report commissioned by Ocean Conservancy, Exploring Solutions to Ocean Plastics: Supporting Southeast Asia’s Informal Waste Sector, identified actions that could both support informal waste collectors and increase the collection of plastics most likely to end up in the ocean. The scoping report led to the project: Solutions to Plastic Pollution through Inclusive Recycling (SPPIRe).

SPPIRe goals include:

  1. To improve the well-being of the individual collectors.
  2. To find end markets for low-value plastics, which aren’t currently collected and are likely to end up in the ocean.
  3. To share learnings with policy makers, so they factor in the informal sector  when developing extended producer responsibility (EPR) systems.

The SPPIRe project was created to address immediate collection needs and support the informal sector. Ocean Conservancy also supports policy measures that reduce the number of plastics produced, particularly single-use plastics, and supports a transition to reuse/refill/repair systems. In the meantime, there is work to be done to support improved waste collection and management, and the people who work in these fields.

Two areas were identified for project implementation. Due to differences in waste management systems, Colombia and Vietnam were selected to test the model in different contexts. Both countries are also implementing EPR policies which could benefit informal sector waste collectors if included.

In-country partners Compromiso Empresarial para el Reciclaje (CEMPRE Colombia) and Center for Environment and Community Research (CECR) in Vietnam were identified, as well as a global coordinating partner, Inclusive Waste Recycling Consortium (iWrc).

The project launched in early 2021 at the World Circular Economy Forum+ Climate with funding from the Trash Free Seas Alliance® through 2022.

Starting in 2023, Ocean Conservancy partnered with IKEA Social Entrepreneurship to continue building on the first two years in of work in Colombia with the aim of supporting the health, well-being and livelihoods of informal sector waste collectors, advocating for recognition of their environmental service, and improving collection and sorting of more types of plastics where end markets are identified.  

Meet Our Implementation Partners

Inclusive Waste Recycling Consortium (iWrc)
global program coordinator

iWrc is a global leader in fair trade labor practices in the waste and recycling sector. iWrc creates an environment where people, communities and business benefit from reducing and transforming waste into valuable resources. They eliminate individual risk factors for those who recycle in emerging markets and live on or below the poverty line—risk factors such as child labor, forced labor and unsafe, inhumane working conditions.

iWrc provided the social assurance framework for the SPPIRe project, a methodology called the Social Fingerprint, which is based on the principles of global workplace standards, mechanisms and expert input to incrementally improve conditions. Learn more.

Compromiso Empresarial para el Reciclaje (CEMPRE Colombia)
Colombia in-country partner (2021-present)

CEMPRE Colombia, founded in 2009, is the Colombian branch of CEMPRE, a non-governmental organization whose purpose is to strengthen waste recovery value chains and increase collection rates of post-consumer materials in Latin America. CEMPRE Colombia engages with and supports communities, local informal waste collectors and other stakeholders in the waste recovery value chain to create a circular economy for materials. Through these activities, partnerships and data capture in their Knowledge Management Center, CEMPRE Colombia seeks to drive the development and sustainability of a circular economy in Colombia. Learn more.

Center for Environment and Community Research (CECR)
Vietnam in-country partner (2021 & 2022)

CECR was established in 2009 in Vietnam with the mission to promote and support the participation of organizations, businesses and communities in environmental protection and the development of effective responses to climate change. Services and areas of engagement that CECR provides include research, environmental education, environmental consulting, policy advocacy for addressing water pollution in Vietnam and advocacy for women’s participation in environmental protection. CECR operates with the strong belief that solutions to environmental problems and climate change require local participation in both the development and implementation stages. Learn more.


Year One Report

This report covers the background, implementation and findings from the first year of SPPIRe’s on-the-ground efforts from approximately March 2021 to March 2022.

Year Two Report

This report builds on Ocean Conservancy’s first report on efforts to support informal sector waste collectors in Colombia and Vietnam and covers the growth of the project and findings from 2022.

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