From the Field: Building a Local Ecosystem for a Flourishing Circular Economy in the Philippines
Since January 2021, USAID’s Clean Cities, Blue Ocean program has been working with local organizations and program-awarded grantees in the Philippines to implement new, local solutions that not only address ocean plastic pollution by improving waste management and promoting more sustainable community practices, but also provide opportunities for new jobs, education, income, and leadership.
Over the last year, program grantee Communities Organized for Resource Allocation (CORA) has set out to establish a new model for local solid waste management (SWM) in Parañaque City, Metro Manila, that builds on existing local infrastructure to maximize efficiency and encourages greater participation from the surrounding community. At the heart of CORA’s grant is the launch of a local “Circular Center” model, which will not only process low-value plastics from beach cleanups and supply them to local manufacturers to make into new products, but will also strengthen local government waste management, employ and empower women, and educate the community. Acknowledging that to be successful the Center would need the support and engagement of the local government, the community, and the private sector–CORA has spent the last year strengthening the enabling environment in Parañaque City for a flourishing local circular economy.
Creating a Business Plan for Sustainable, Market-Driven Solutions
With support from USAID, CORA began its project by developing a business model for the Circular Center, an approach not often taken by community and non-governmental organizations. Approaching the vision for the Center as a business enabled CORA to identify at the start how to make the Center to be sustainable for years to come. How much low-value plastic waste would it need to be able to supply its partners consistent volumes of material for their recycled plastic products? What alternative sources of low-value plastics could it draw on to supplement waste collected from the organization’s beach cleanups? What businesses and corporations could it partner with to make the Circular a profitable, self-sustaining model?
The resulting plan is focused on five central pillars: community, inclusivity, growth, continuous training and development, and sustainable partnerships–which have guided CORA in its success thus far. Read on to learn more about how CORA has worked to prepare for the launch of its Circular Center.
Engaging Local Communities Online to Increase Awareness of Ocean Plastic Pollution and how to Practice more Sustainable Waste Practices
In preparation for the Circular Center’s launch, USAID and CORA dedicated significant effort to building awareness of the global ocean plastic pollution crisis and holding discussions on consumer and community solutions within local, regional, and even global audiences. CORA’s business model aims to not just establish a sustainable recycling model, but also educate communities on the 3Rs–reduce, reuse, and recycle–to promote long-term social and behavior change.
CORA made the best of the outreach restrictions during the global COVID-19 pandemic and took their outreach program online, where they reached over 6,300 individuals through online videos and webinars. In July 2021, CORA launched their Clean Cities, Blue Ocean Webinar series, which aimed to increase awareness of ocean plastic pollution, enabling individuals and communities to learn best practices from experts to reduce waste. The organization also leveraged their significant social media followings to build awareness and anticipation. CORA and its founder, Antoinette Taus, reached over 390,000 individuals through their Facebook presence alone.
Through the model’s development and implementation, CORA is committed to sharing its model in person, promoting the Circular Center model’s results and achievements with private sector partners, national and local government representatives, and community members and schools promoting 3R/SWM programs and practices through community outreach “roadshows.” Additionally, promotional videos, campaigns, teasers, and livestream events will continue being shared via social media platforms throughout the life of the project.
Empowering Women in the Waste Value Chain as 3R Champions
As part of its focus on community, inclusivity, and growth, CORA has intentionally incorporated women’s empowerment and leadership into its business model. An initial group of 10 women will staff the center and have begun training that is not only enabling them to learn more about waste management, but also become community ambassadors that can mobilize the community and foster better involvement and engagement around more sustainable waste practices.
In November 2021, USAID and CORA hosted an event to officially announce its Circular Center Women Champions. The event marked a key step toward advancing the role of women as leaders in local ocean plastic waste solutions and included remarks from the Parañaque City Mayor, Edwin Olivarez. Following the launch, CORA hosted a coastal clean-up event at the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park. Low-value plastics from this and other clean up events, for which there is no other market, will be brought to the Center and turned into products such as bags, shoes, and decorations.
Following the launch, the 10 women champions began participating in technical waste trainings to learn the skills they will need to process waste at the Center, as well as health and safety and empowerment trainings that advance women’s rights, address gender-based violence, and build leadership and communication skills among the group. These trainings aim to ensure the women are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to guide their local communities toward more sustainable SWM practices and build a flourishing local circular economy.
Leveraging Partnerships to Build Basic Infrastructure and Create End-Markets for Single-Use Plastics
As part of its focus on growth and partnerships–two areas required under its business plan, CORA has formed several partnerships to ensure its sustainability. CORA has formalized partnerships with the Parañaque local government through its City Environment and Natural Resource Office, which will enable CORA to base its Circular Center in Parañaque’s main Material Recovery Facility (MRF). The MRFs that were originally established in the Philippines to recover recyclable materials from municipal solid waste and process organic waste for composting and urban farming projects have had limited success due to a lack of resources and operational knowledge. Through this partnership, CORA envisions transforming the MRF into a social enterprise that will be an inclusive path toward a sustainable future, as well as a venue for local community members to collaborate and participate in various programs, activities, and innovations that will foster sustainable lifestyles and promote circular economies.
The next step toward success of the Circular Center is to ensure each link of the waste value chain, from collection to upcycling, is supported. CORA will establish additional public-sector partnerships with the Philippines’ Departments of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), Science and Technology (DOST), and Education (DepEd) to provide technical and logistical support for waste collection and deliveries, including collection from beach clean-up activities. They will also work to develop a network of SWM experts, private companies, organizations, recyclers, junk shops, and haulers ready to reuse and recycle other materials collected such as metal, glass, recyclable and non-recyclable plastics with the support of multi-stakeholder coalition and former USAID Municipal Waste Recycling Program grantee, Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability (PARMS).
CORA has already locked in a partnership with Sentinel Plastic Manufacturing, which will buy single-use plastics from the Center, such as sachets and plastic bags, which were previously deemed non-recyclable, and transform them into new goods such as recycled plastic furniture. CORA will use the resulting revenue from its partnership with Sentinel and others to reinvest in the future programming and ensure the sustainability of the Center beyond USAID’s grant.