Option 01 | Recycling rags to riches; a waste collector speaks

Option 01 | Recycling rags to riches; a waste collector speaks

Option 02 | From Overlooked to Empowered: Achini’s Battle Against Plastic Waste in Sri Lanka

Option 03 | Aspiring to Empower Communities: Achini’s Inspiring Journey to Tackle Plastic Waste in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka currently imports over 500,000 metric tons of virgin plastic annually, while only 33% of the daily 10,786 metric tons of plastic waste is collected as per industry reports. About 3% of this collected waste is recycled nationwide. In the midst of this waste management challenge, Achini (42 years) from Ganemulla emerges as an unsung hero, embodying the transformative power of determination and knowledge.

Achini dedicated herself to collecting a post-consumer PET bottles and it is remarkable how her appreciation for PET bottles and their untapped potential blossomed in just under a year. Her affinity for recycling plastic, born out of a longstanding love for helping the environment, has now evolved into a powerful mission.

The ASPIRE Project: A Beacon of Hope

In response to the urgent issue of waste mismanagement, the ‘Accelerating and Strengthening the Plastic Informal Recycling Eco-system (ASPIRE) in Sri Lanka’ Project, funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation and implemented by World Vision Lanka, seeks to fortify plastic collection, enhance plastic waste recycling, and promote responsible PET plastic disposal. Achini’s transformational journey begins here.

Initially, she viewed the project with skepticism. However, her first encounter with ASPIRE shattered these preconceived notions, revealing a world far beyond her expectations. The project opened her eyes to the realm of plastic waste: various types, efficient management, and the possibilities it held for creating stable livelihoods.

The awareness and training provided by ASPIRE have fundamentally changed Achini’s perspective. What she once considered disposable PET bottles, like most others, she now recognizes as valuable resources. Her monthly collection has grown from 40 kg to 125 kg in just five months, expanding well beyond her immediate neighborhood.

Beyond Collection: An Advocate for Change

Achini is not just a waste collector; she is a catalyst for change. She has become the primary collector for two local schools and the town of Ganemulla. But her role extends beyond waste collection; she’s a dedicated advocate for knowledge-sharing. Whether with teachers, students, shop owners, or households, Achini imparts the wisdom she has gained through ASPIRE. Even while waiting to pick up her own children from their tuition classes on Saturdays, she seizes the opportunity to educate parents on essential waste management tips.

She is just one of the local community members who have partnered with ASPIRE. They receive formal training as ‘Recycle Industry Assistants’ at National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) level 4, equipping them with the technical skills required to manage waste effectively. In addition, they gain expertise in waste segregation, and responsible PET plastic disposal, and are provided with the necessary tools and equipment to build their livelihoods.

The Tale of Transformation and Empowerment: A Holistic Impact

ASPIRE’s impact extends beyond waste collection. The project collaborates with the families of its participants through World Vision’s ‘Journey of Transformation’ model. It fosters collective development, promoting respect and understanding within families and raising awareness of gender roles. Achini, her husband, and children now work together as a family, inspired by their collective vision. Her husband, who can no longer work regularly due to health issues, has become her greatest support. Their family’s shared efforts have led to the creation of value-added products, with a new tile awaiting certification as their latest achievement.

Achini’s life no longer mirrors the insignificance she once felt. Today, not only has her income improved, but so has her overall well-being. Her increased income allows her to take care of her husband’s medical expenses, demonstrating the profound impact of ASPIRE on her life. She has gone further by building a network of 20 more resource collectors, providing employment to two vulnerable individuals, including with psychosocial challenges. She actively engages with 26 Community Development Societies each month, and is recognized as an environmental champion.

Reshaping Narratives, One PET Bottle at a Time

Achini’s story is not just about waste collection; it’s a tale of personal transformation, community empowerment, and environmental stewardship. Thanks to ASPIRE’s dedication, The Coca-Cola Foundation (TCCF), and World Vision Lanka, waste collectors like Achini are rewriting their narrative, one PET bottle at a time.

Coca-Cola in Sri Lanka has set up over 555 PET Collection Points across 19 districts, along with Material Recovery Facilities and resource banks, resulting in the collection of approximately 800 metric tons of plastic waste each year. Remarkably, the ASPIRE Project has seen PET collection rates rise from 5.95 metric tons in January to an impressive 89.44 metric tons in September.

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