Everyone has a stake in the plastic pollution problem. If we, as a global community, are unable to get plastic pollution under control, the consequences will be dire. Plastic waste contributes to the loss of biodiversity, the spread of disease, and chemical contamination. While stakeholders—governments, companies, and individuals—point fingers and divert responsibility, plastic pollution grows exponentially. We are at a critical point where we cannot shift blame any longer. Action is needed.
TONTOTON’s Plastic-Free Coastlines Movement is taking that much-needed action. Through education campaigns, multi-stakeholder cooperation, visual branding, and more, this campaign closes the loop in plastic waste management and offers an immediate solution to a long-lasting issue.
Launched on February 17, 2022, the Plastic-Free Coastlines Movement simultaneously removes harmful plastic waste from communities that are most impacted by plastic pollution while empowering those who live in those communities to take this problem into their own hands. It also provides education and awareness surrounding plastic waste and proper management to avoid exacerbating an already grave issue.
It takes a village to clean a village
This is the mantra that the Plastic-Free Coastlines Campaign operates under. It means that, in order to be successful, all stakeholders, especially members of vulnerable communities, must work together in order to reduce the amount of mismanaged plastic waste. TONTOTON works with multiple entities–the government, NGOs, businesses, schools, charities—to encourage them to take ownership of the plastic that they use, produce, and discard.
We do this in a few ways.
- Through education initiatives, we teach local community members how to properly discard their plastic waste and the dangers of throwing plastic waste into the sea or otherwise mishandling the waste.
- We employ community members as plastic waste collectors. TONTOTON provides training, personal protective equipment, and access to health care along with offering an income. This has two positive outcomes: community members can better support their families through their employment with TONTOTON, and their families can enjoy a healthier, happier lifestyle as the plastic waste is removed from their home.
- We promote collective responsibility through careful branding and other initiatives.
- We connect business owners, governments, and communities, creating a united front against plastic pollution in lieu of pointing fingers.
Although our solution is unique, we’re funded through a well-known system: plastic credits. However, our plastic credit approach is a little different.
A new approach to the plastic credit system
Offsetting an environmental footprint through the purchase of credits is nothing new. For years, companies have claimed neutrality through funding projects that offset the damage that their company does to the environment. While this system does allow companies to fund positive environmental projects that align with their brand, it also could be taken advantage of by companies to continue damaging practices while claiming sustainability. In the end, no improvement is made.
Next to every value plastic bottle, there are non-recyclable plastic bags, styrofoam, or even shoes. The recycling market will only take the plastic bottle, leaving the non-recyclable items. As a result, the recycling industry only partially cleans the environment, leaving non-recyclable materials to pollute the environment. Therefore, our environmental responsibility is to clean up non-recyclable materials at least as much as we target recyclable materials. When we focus on all plastic waste, we as an industry can help to close the gap on mismanaged plastic pollution.
That’s why TONTOTON takes a different approach. We encourage our partners to take responsibility not only for the plastic that they produce but for all plastic waste—recyclable and non-recyclable—associated with the source of their raw materials. For example, if a partner has made the decision to only purchase recyclable items, we further encourage them to buy plastic credit to claim responsibility for the non-recyclable mismanaged plastic surrounding their recyclable items. Simply investing in recyclable items and claiming sustainability is incorrect and a form of greenwashing. Companies must take responsibility for the plastic packaging and other non-recyclable waste that is created and accumulated as the result of their recyclable materials, too.
Furthermore, we believe in additionality. Rather than focusing on the removal of recyclable plastic waste, we focus on all types of plastic waste, but more specifically, low-value, post-consumer plastic—what we call orphan plastic. This is a plastic type that largely goes ignored because it’s difficult to recycle. However, it’s also one of the biggest culprits of mismanaged waste.
Our system, therefore, fills two gaps in the sustainability world: encouraging companies to take full responsibility for their plastic waste and removing orphan plastic waste from the environment. But, we don’t stop here. Through the Plastic-Free Coastlines Movement we continue to create additional value in multiple ways.
Building a bridge between stakeholders
The major problem with finger-pointing is that no one steps up to take responsibility. At TONTOTON, we believe that all stakeholders must take responsibility if we are to properly address plastic pollution.
We’ve found that stakeholders’ reluctance to address their plastic problem isn’t from a lack of care but rather a lack of resources. For example, the government in Sihanoukville acknowledges the plastic waste problem and that it needs to be addressed, but due to the fast-growing infrastructure and economy, they simply can’t keep up. Working with companies like TONTOTON allows the government to support environmental efforts and reach environmental goals that they could not reach on their own.
TONTOTON also collaborates with cement kilns, who take the plastic waste collected and convert it into energy and raw materials. Plastic is more efficient than coal, but it takes a great effort to collect and sort the plastic for co-processing. TONTOTON provides the manpower and resources to collect the plastic, and the cement kilns then get rid of the plastic through co-processing. It’s a win for everyone.
Perhaps the most important stakeholders, and certainly the ones who experience the most immediate benefits from the removal of mismanaged plastic waste, are the members of the communities in which we work. Not only do they get to enjoy employment through our program, but they also enjoy a cleaner and safer environment for themselves and their children. Plastic waste harbors disease-carrying bacteria and leaks chemicals. Cleaning this type of waste—some of which has piled up so high that it leaks into households—is literally life saving.
Besides providing employment, we also work to educate the local population about the dangers of plastic pollution and how to properly manage their waste. In the three months that we’ve been working in rural villages in Sihanoukville, our employees have collected over 300 tons of plastic waste, and a notable improvement has been seen in regards to the levels of mismanaged plastic waste.
The Plastic-Free Coastlines Movement isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s the best solution that we have right now. By empowering all stakeholders to take responsibility for plastic waste, especially those in the most vulnerable communities, we are able to quickly and effectively remove a significant amount of plastic waste from the environment. In fact, we seek to remove 3,000 tons from Cambodia by 2022. As we grow, we will develop our system to explore more options to recycle, reach more communities in need of aid, and expand our capacity to collect and treat orphan plastic.