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Saving Bali's environment one plastic bag at a time

What we have learned from 4 years running a plastic waste reduction campaign

Posted June 29, 2017, 08:05 by Okky Sari in First news category

At PlastikDetox, our thinking goes that if we can make the proposition for cutting down on excessive use of plastic straws and bags attractive enough to business owners and managers, hopefully they will at least be willing to give it a shot. After hundreds of interactions with them over lattes and iced teas, this is what we have learned about making sustainability a practical option for people who run small businesses.

 

Most people mean well - but that hardly makes them sustainability advocates
What we've realized is that at least where we operate, most people we talk to would be quite happy to waste less. They've seen the videos of the great garbage patch and the turtle that has a plastic straw stuck up its nose. Given the opportunity, they might do something about it because frankly, who likes to see garbage all around them? But they just don't know where to start dealing with the issue, and in any case they're usually too busy to think too much about it. Once they have understood PlastikDetox is not out to sell them anything, they're usually willing to listen to what we have to propose.

Talk business first, environment later (if at all)
During our first critical interactions with business owners, we rarely lead with 'green' benefits. Instead, we talk about customer satisfaction and convenience, supplies pricing, brand visibility and staff training - and then bring it back to behaviour change. By trying to slip into the shoes of the people we talk to, we're showing we understand what it's like to run anything from a local store to a cafe. At the end of the day, an environmentally-minded business cannot succeed if the clients are not happy and cash is not rolling in.

Staying practical
The life of a business owner revolves around practicalities. How quickly a take-away food box can be packed in a recycled bag. How fast a biodegradable paper straw will turn into mush in a smoothie, irritating the customer. How long it takes to wash a reusable straw and keep it hygienic. We cannot afford to be lackadaisical about any of these considerations, because they are core to the success of a business -- these are the type of considerations that keep business owners awake at night (that and TripAdvisor rankings we guess).

Get the staff behind you asap
If only having the buy-in from the business manager was enough. The reality is, on a day-to-day basis they seldom deal directly with the customers. Waiters and cashiers are the ones who bear the brunt of turning PlastikDetox from a nice idea into a mechanism that reduces waste -- getting customers to pay for plastic bags, refusing to give away straws unless requested -- and they are the ones who will face the greatest difficulties in doing so. Add to that a tendency to consider the customer as king or a queen, and the challenges in implementing policies that are not always popular become obvious. This is why PlastikDetox runs training sessions for staff shortly after their business has joined.

Stick to it in the long term
Helping a new member to navigate the waters of this greener world makes for challenging, testy relationships. Things can go wrong. Some customers complain they can't handle a reusable straw. A few will demand plastic bags, claiming it is their right as a customer. If we're not in there with the business owner to figure out solutions to issues as they pop up, PlastikDetox will not be given another chance. But all in all, what we've realized is that if staff and management are on the same page, these isolated issues rarely add up to major problems.

Eye on the needle
We could point to our expanding PlastikDetox membership and be content that our movement is gaining traction. But it’s one thing to have members, and another to actually demonstrably reduce plastic waste -- as much as we would wish to show causality. And this is where we have the most progress to make -- finding convenient ways for our members to track how many disposable items they have avoided, and report that data back to us.

We may be small and underfunded, but we're convinced that we're on the right track and we have our members to thank for this. Ultimately, we are trying to bring about behavioural changes in Bali that will evolve from a fringe minority to mainstream, complementing the work of other organisations out there that are also doing their part to chip away at the waste monstrosity generated on the island.

If not us, then who?

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