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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Berthold

Project STOP: A pioneering initiative that creates circular waste management systems to stop ocean plastics at the source

Plastic waste is polluting our marine environments at an incredible rate of more than eight million tonnes a year.¹ A precious material with many vital applications, plastic loses its value entirely when it is improperly disposed of – and, when this disposal leads it to become ocean waste, it also causes serious problems for delicate marine ecosystems, as well as for local communities and society as a whole. Project STOP’s vision is for plastic to be recognised as the precious material that it is, and accordingly for plastic waste to be treated as a valuable commodity that should be carefully collected, sorted and processed, ready for re-use.

Founded in 2017 by Borealis and SYSTEMIQ, Project STOP aims to provide a blueprint model to tackle this crisis, and to inspire collective action to permanently stop the leakage of plastics into our oceans.

‘System enabler’ approach

In order to achieve success in a highly complex environment, the programme takes a ‘system enabler’ approach, which emphasises close collaboration between city governments, national ministries, and the Project STOP partners. By leveraging the unique competencies and the local and technical knowledge of the various parties, the programme is able to effect change on both a behavioural and an institutional level. Profits from the sale of recyclable and organic materials, as well as waste collection fees, are used to fund the ongoing operating costs, forming the basis of a self-financing system.

Project STOP began its work in Indonesia, where the government had set an ambitious target of reducing the amount of plastic in its oceans by 70% by 2025.² After China, Indonesia is the second largest contributor to ocean waste, with plastic leakage expected to reach 800,000 tonnes per annum by 2025 if no action is taken.³

© Project STOP

The programme was launched in the city of Muncar, a coastal fishing community in Banyuwangi, East Java, where marine plastic was causing damage to the marine ecosystem, as well as harming fishing and tourism. To date, Project STOP Muncar has provided waste collection to 90,000 people, created 110 new jobs, and collected 16,000 tonnes of waste, including 2,117 tonnes of plastic.⁴ Having achieved operational maturity, the Muncar collection and sorting facilities and infrastructure were fully handed over to the local municipal government in February 2022.

In February 2020 the Project STOP model was rolled out to two additional cities in Indonesia — Jembrana and Pasuruan — and in the next phase it will expand to the entire Banyuwangi region. Combined, all Project STOP city and regional partnerships are aiming to improve the livelihood of over 2,000,000 people by 2025, creating over 1,000 full time jobs and collecting 230,000 tonnes of waste, including 25,000 tonnes of plastic, annually.

© Project STOP

In addition to these activities, Project STOP is aiming to broaden its impact by strengthening its collaboration with local and international partners from the plastics value chain. Currently, the programme team is putting in place the infrastructure and supply chain to supply ethically-sourced and ocean-bound recycled plastics, as well as establishing novel financing schemes, including plastics credits, to co-finance waste management investments.

There are many challenges to be overcome in order to make the programme sustainable and scalable over the long-term. Crucially, a critical mass of reliable, high-quality waste feedstock is needed in order to encourage circular economy investments from private sector partners. The programme’s current priorities are to establish partnerships with eco-conscious companies looking for recyclates and plastic credits in order to achieve their sustainability goals; to leverage research and development capabilities from academic partners; and to strengthen cooperation with existing waste management and recycling initiatives. The Indonesian government supports market-based approaches, and is partnering with Project STOP to find solutions from across the public and private sectors.

© Project STOP

Stopping the leakage of plastics into our oceans is vital, and achieving it will require society-wide recognition of the value of plastic waste and the necessity of harnessing it for the good of our planet. Project STOP can’t achieve this alone, but, by providing a replicable model, it aims to inspire and enable others to take action.

¹ Jenna R. Jambeck et al., “Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean,” Science 347, no. 6223 (2015): 768–71, doi:10.1126/ science.1260352.

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