APARAJITA: CHANGING WOMEN’S LIVES

Interview with Kalyani Rani Biswas by Samina Khondaker

Aparajita began with the goal of empowering women and ensuring that they had equal environmental rights. On March 8, 2017, Kalyani Rani Biswas, the organization’s founder, embarked on this path with little manpower and a heart full of dreams, ambition, and drive to empower women economically, mentally, and physically. 

Aparajita founder, Kalyani Rani Biswas. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

Kalyani Rani Biswas noticed many women living in poverty and uncertainty. She recognized at that point that this could not happen. So, in order to make them self-sufficient, she began working with them, starting with sewing and gradually progressing to preparing spices and vermicomposting. Vermicomposting was chosen since the majority of the ladies were from a farming background and found it simple to cope with, and cow dung is one of the greatest raw materials for vermicomposting, with which they are already accustomed to. 

Currently, around 37 active individuals are working for Aparajita in various parts of Magura in order to help women become psychologically and physically independent.

GAIA sat down with Kalyani to know more about their work.

What are the top priorities of Aparajita?

Aparajita is now focused on sewing, spice preparation, and vermicomposting, although vermicomposting is their major priority. Work has been done in Magura Municipality Wards 4, 7, and 8, as well as Changardanga village in Magura Sadar Upazila. We are trying to spread the word about vermicomposting across Magura Zilla and, if feasible, the entire country.

The spices come next. Women from the organisation prepare around 1,500 kilos of vermicompost each month, which are purchased by the local Spice Research Institute and the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA). The organization also retails these spices to the local community.  

What are the main ongoing campaigns? 

One of our continuing campaigns involves waste workers. We are training them to separate the waste they collect every day into biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste and to dispose of it in a specified location. The biodegradables are later used in vermicomposting.

Sewing is another one of our ongoing initiatives. We stitch clothing and sell them at the local market, and people make a livelihood from it.

And spices are already an active campaign for us, since we prepare and sell them on a daily basis.

At Aparajita’s Training Center. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

What would you consider are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?

One of our organization’s most significant successes is that around 25 houses in our neighborhood are effectively doing vermicomposting. Because of this, the soil fertility of that area has grown significantly, as has the soil’s water holding capacity, and fertilizer needs are being satisfied. After viewing the results, many farmers are interested in doing vermicomposting. As a result of this successful endeavor, Aparajita was awarded the best organization award, and I was honored for entrepreneurship by the Department of Cooperatives. 

Receiving the Best Entrepreneur Award from the District Administrator and Upazila Chairman. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

What challenges are you facing?  How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Aparajita suffered tragically. Earthworms with a BDT 3 Lac value (approx US$3,233) perished due to a lack of staff and extreme heat! During the pandemic, lockdowns were implemented around the country, preventing individuals from going out to work. The organization’s workforce was dwindling at the time. In the midst of the pandemic, we had to endure a loss of BDT 3 Lac.

Aside from COVID, we faced several hurdles such as the difficulty of persuading community members to work with earthworm and cow dung, two key vermicomposting supplies. We had to convince them that 10 kilos of raw cow dung may yield 7 kilos of fertilizer. If this is sold in the market for BDT 20 (US$0.22) or at retail for BDT 15 (US$0.15), they may make a respectable profit and transform their lifestyle for the better.

People were eventually convinced after our persistent campaigning, and they are now working and earning more than before!

What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?

Because of climate change, we are facing many issues such as untimely rain which is creating waterlogging that is completely destroying our field and the products it contains such as paddy, rice, etc.

How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next years? 

Aparajita views the organization’s growth through vermicomposting not just in Magura Zilla, but throughout the country. This would benefit not just the country, but also the farmers who are living in poverty. This choice will allow them to generate a respectable income for themselves while also creating opportunities for others.

Production of earthworm manure in the trainee’s own home after receiving the training.
Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now?

Waste has become a major issue for all of us. If our administration does not handle this properly, the implications might be disastrous especially when it comes to our respiration. This will not only impair human health but will also have a negative impact on the ecosystem. It is about time to properly manage waste, all types of waste. This will not only result in a healthy environment, but also in a habitat environment.

Sorting waste at its source is highly crucial and effective. Wastes are effectively handled, waste workers’ health and the foul odor of waste will not affect the environment.

Do you collaborate with partners in other regions? If so, how?

Aparajita collaborates with ASD Bangladesh. Together we conduct different training and events related to organizational projects. ASD Bangladesh, also based in Magura, provides manpower and conducts training sessions for Aparajita.

At the Aparjita Training Center. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

How does your work on waste relate to social justice?

We have always tried to work for the betterment of the community and society. We try to make people aware of the negative impacts that an issue might have. We have a theater group when we go on awareness campaigns in villages. Drama or play is one easy method that works because it has both audio and visual. This helps us gauge the community’s opinion on the issue and see their enthusiasm towards the advocacy.  

Who do you admire most in the environmental work (in your country or in the world)?

Aparajita always admires work related to soil and farmers. We are interconnected and these days, it is a growing concern that we need to work on. One of the organization’s motto is ‘Krishok Bachle, Desh Bachbe’ (If the farmer survives, the country will survive)’

We also admire those working against plastic pollution. We would love to contribute to this movement in the near future.

Interested in supporting the work of Aparajita?  They need additional support for:

  • Vermicomposting (mostly with resources such as creating a shed for the compost, for buying earthworms, and other resources)
  • Collection and sorting wastes through 3 compartment vans which will help them to sort wastes easily and work safely.

Gear up and get ready, GAIA Asia Pacific will be bringing you exciting fellowship opportunities for media, CSO communications officers, and communications students this August!

Media Fellowship on Climate – South and East Asia

Exclusive for media practitioners in South Asia and East Asia – get to know the facts on how our climate is changing and how we are currently dealing with the problem. 

In this fellowship, 

  • You’ll learn about climate issues, policies, and conferences;
  • Make the connection between climate, Zero Waste, and waste pickers; climate and the plastics issue; and climate and waste burning;
  • Delve into climate reporting; and 
  • Be the 1st to hear about our latest report on climate and Zero Waste.

Climate and environment experts from across the globe will guide you through the ins and outs of climate change and Zero Waste and top-notch journalists will offer their insights on how to communicate these very important and timely topics. 

Criteria for Application 

  1. The Fellowship is open to early-career journalists (at least 3 years) from print, radio, or television.
  2. Applicants must have a keen interest in climate, environmental, and developmental journalism.
  3. The applicant must be willing to commit to the 5-month fellowship.  Failure to do so will result in disqualification in succeeding GAIA AP bootcamps, training, and fellowships.
  4. The applicant must secure an endorsement letter from the media outlet or a peer journalist.
  5. Other than the twice-a-month sessions, the participant must commit to regular consultation with the mentors. 
  6. The applicant must have experience in covering and engaging with CSOs.  Previous engagement with a GAIA member CSOs is a plus.  

Slots available: 

South Asia: India (3), Nepal (2), Sri Lanka (2), Bangladesh (2), Maldives (2), Bhutan (1), Pakistan (1)

East Asia: Hong Kong (2), Taiwan (2), China (3), Japan (2), Korea (2)

SEA Biodiversity Media Bootcamp

Join our  Southeast Asia Biodiversity Media Bootcamp where we bring together journalists, civil society organizations’ communications practitioners, and communications students to achieve the common good: communicating biodiversity conservation within the context of Zero Waste! 

There are no strenuous military drills here; instead, you will learn: 

  • Biodiversity terms and various international biodiversity conventions
  • Environmental issues in Southeast Asia especially the marine plastic pollution
  • Zero Waste contribution to biodiversity
  • Biodiversity reporting from knowledge building to persuasion and moving the audience to act
  • Waste pickers as biodiversity champions; and
  • Zero Waste communities as vanguards of biodiversity

And to top it off, you will be mentored by biodiversity and communications experts and top-notch journalists from Southeast Asia while working with other students, comms practitioners, and journalists. 

Criteria for Application 

  1. For Communication Officers, the applicant must be working as a Communications Officer for a GAIA AP member organization.  In the absence of a dedicated Communications Officer, a staff assigned to do communications work for the organization may qualify, provided that he/she is willing to write a biodiversity piece as part of the deliverables of the bootcamp.  He or she must be a regular employee of the member organization.  Interns and consultants with more than one year contract with the organization may apply.
  • For Journalists, the Bootcamp is open to early-career journalists (at least 3 years) from print, radio, or television.
  • For Communication students, the applicant must be a Communication college or university student and at least 18 years old. 
  1. Applicants must have a keen interest in science, environmental, and developmental journalism.
  2. The applicant must be willing to commit to the 5-month bootcamp.  Failure to do so will result in disqualification in succeeding GAIA AP bootcamps, training, and fellowships.
  3. The applicant must secure an endorsement letter from the organization’s head (for communication officers), media outlet or peer journalist (for journalists), and teacher or journalist mentor (for communication students) to attend the bootcamp and be granted time to attend the bootcamp sessions.
  4. Other than the once-a-month sessions, the participant must commit to regular consultation with the mentors. 
  5. The journalist applicant must have experience in covering and engaging with CSOs.  Previous engagement with a GAIA member CSOs is a plus.  
  6. Communication Students with volunteer experience with a CSO and involvement with the school paper are a plus.

Slots available:

  • 12 journalists: Cambodia (1), Indonesia (3), Malaysia (1), Philippines (3), Thailand (1), Vietnam (3)
  • 12 comms practitioners: Cambodia (1), Indonesia (3), Malaysia (1), Philippines (3), Thailand (1) Vietnam (3)
  • 12 comms students: Cambodia (1), Indonesia (3), Malaysia (1), Philippines (3), Thailand (1) Vietnam (3)

Twice-a-month online sessions for the Media Fellowship on Climate – South & East Asia and once-a-month online sessions for the SEA Biodiversity Bootcamp. Both fellowships will run from August to October with a two-month allocation for story writing.  Story grants are available.  

All sessions will be conducted in English.

Slots are limited so send your applications before July 19, 2022! 

Apply now 

Media Fellowship on Climate – South & East Asia

SEA Biodiversity Bootcamp

GAIA AP has a strict non-discrimination policy.  We believe everyone should be treated equally regardless of race, sex, gender identification, sexual orientation, national origin, native language, religion, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, genetic information, pregnancy, or any other characteristic protected by law. 

Applicants will be screened based on completed requirements and may be called for an interview if needed. For more inquiries, email Sonia@no-burn.org

Manila – The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) – Asia Pacific condemns the continued promotion and commitment of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to invest in Waste-to-Energy (WTE) incinerators. It has also relentlessly shaped country and regional energy and climate policies and guidelines to include this polluting technology as a renewable or clean source of energy. 

The ADB has conducted the last four days of the  Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) as a virtual marketing platform for the WTE industry and its backers to sell this technology to governments and development planners.  While WTE promoters enjoyed speaking spaces to promote its false solutions,  there was no space provided for communities and grassroots organizations to challenge the purported promises of environmental, social, and financial opportunities from WTE incinerators and to be heard on how these technologies impact their health, jobs, and their environment. In summary, the ACEF has been nothing but an arena for industry polluters in shaping the narrative of what a low-carbon energy mix should look like for the region. 

Investing in WTE incinerators undermines national and global goals to keep temperatures at 1.5 degrees and achieve resilience amid the urgency to act strongly on climate, health, and fiscal emergencies in the region. Incinerators are dirtier than the rest of the grid. Per unit of electricity output, they emit 3.8 times as much greenhouse gases — 1.9 times as much carbon dioxide, 15 times as much nitrous oxide and methane, and 66 times as much biogenic carbon dioxide as the grid average. WTE incinerators are also known to create persistent organic pollutants as byproducts of their operations. 

The ACEF’s silence on the impacts of WTE incinerators on poor and marginalized communities. WTE incinerators are always placed beside low-income communities that cause long-term, multi-generational health impacts from toxic air and groundwater pollution. WTE also threatens informal workers in the waste sector and poses a threat to the generation of green jobs as these facilities wipe out opportunities by burning waste that should have been up for recycling. WTE destroys the resilience of the poor and marginalized communities and should have no place in the just transition. 

Instead of bringing toxic energy and unsustainable debts, we urge the ADB to invest more in environmental waste management priorities which begins with waste reduction, reuse, to recycling instead of incinerating precious and finite resources.

The ADB, as a development bank, whose aim is to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development in the region should also cease in shaping the narrative that industry polluters are the drivers of innovation on energy, waste, and inclusion. This narrative negates the existing Zero Waste practices and communities that sustainable waste management patterns in the Asia Pacific.

We are also deeply concerned that the newly-adopted ADB Energy Policy 2021, which states that investments in WTE incinerators shall flow only after meeting the following requirements 1)  after careful consideration of their political, social, and environmental contexts and in accordance with international conventions, 2)  provided that the feedstock for combustion results from a prudent order of waste management priorities, and lastly 3) first reducing waste generation, then exploiting the options for reusing and recycling materials, remains to be an empty promise. To date, we have not seen any guidance framework to ensure that these precautionary measures and priorities are in place. We strongly call for the immediate implementation of this policy requirement immediately. 

We call on the ADB to stop undermining national and global development objectives and align its investment policy to the requirements of the Paris Agreement, international instruments, and other development objectives for a truly just and resilient path to net zero. ####

Media Contact:

Sonia Astudillo, GAIA Asia Pacific Communications Officer sonia@no-burn.org, +63 917 5969286

Campaign Contact:

Yobel Novian Putra, GAIA Asia Pacific Climate & Clean Energy Associate yobel@no-burn.org 

Civil society groups from across Asia, Europe and Latin America are staging the first-ever virtual walkout during a session about the future direction of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) energy sector financing. The AIIB is currently in the process of updating its 2018 Energy Sector Strategy and has invited public comment on a proposed draft between April 8th and June 3rd. However, today’s one-hour online session together with a similar session scheduled for one hour tomorrow, are the only time slots the Bank has opened for groups from around the world to directly raise questions and concerns to staff over the course of the eight week consultation period, leaving no time for meaningful engagement and discussion.  

Tanya Roberts-Davis, Energy Policy and Campaigns Strategist from the NGO Forum on ADB explained: “It is absolutely imperative that the AIIB, an international financial institution bankrolling large-scale infrastructure projects that have significant impacts on people, economies and the environment across the entire range of borrowing member countries, engage in a transparent, inclusive, publicly accountable process for updating their strategic framework guiding future energy investments. Indeed, by the Bank’s own calculations, energy accounts for nearly one-third of its project financing. Yet, only now –  after repeated calls from civil society groups to the Bank’s management – and a mere two weeks before the end of the period of public input, are we being ‘invited’ to one-hour time slots for submitting brief comments on the draft update of the Energy Sector Strategy. We refuse to consider such a restrictive platform as a space for genuine, meaningful, inclusive discussions, dialogue and debate.” 

The group of organizations from diverse social sectors made the decision to join the AIIB’s consultation session scheduled today in order to read out a collective statement of denunciation,  before staging the online walkout, while others will convey a similar message by boycotting the process entirely. 

As Vidya Dinker from the Indian Social Action Forum affirmed: “We are tempted to be as dismissive of the AIIB’s process as the Bank has been of any principles of meaningful consultation or due diligence. However, our commitments to advancing the concerns of affected communities and to keep AIIB accountable mean we shall be there today to clearly say yet again what we have said before to the Bank – to call them out and state that these token ‘consultations’ cannot be used to legitimize what has been an extremely listless and disrespectful process. Any updated Energy Sector Strategy that AIIB adopts without due course correction will be unacceptable and at variance with their stated obligations.”

Maia Seeger from Sustentarse in Chile further explained: “The AIIB is just beginning to finance energy projects in Latin America. Over the years, our countries in this region have been affected by the development of mega-energy infrastructure carried out without proper consultation, with huge impacts on Indigenous Peoples, communities and the environment. We are therefore highly concerned about the resources the AIIB will be allocating to expand mega-energy projects in the region, for instance, if it will include resource-intensive green hydrogen plants in Chile. In light of the malpractices we have seen regarding AIIB consultation processes to date, we can only expect the investments will lead to increasing socio-environmental conflicts in the future.”

Nora Sausmikat from Urgewald, based in Germany, asserted: “As a triple-A rating multilateral bank devoted to financing the ‘infrastructure of tomorrow” shareholders and the management should not stick to outdated crisis evoking technologies. It is time to listen to science and the people, as requested during the last six years. The updating of the Energy Sector Strategy needs to take into account the voices of the people – now – and in a meaningful manner!

Mayang Azurin from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives-Asia Pacific elaborated further: “We urge the AIIB to resolve the flagrant inconsistencies in investment practices in its current support to Waste-to-Energy (WTE) projects. It’s time for the AIIB to rule out direct and indirect support for this toxic and carbon-intensive technology either as a form of power generation or waste management and clearly exclude it from eligibility for financing under the updated Energy Sector Strategy. In line with this positioning, we urge the Board to reconsider any further support for currently financed WTE projects in the Maldives and Turkey. In addition, the AIIB must avoid becoming further entangled in future investments in the sector by immediately withdrawing the proposed financing for WTE projects through financial intermediary on-lending to China Everbright Limited. Let’s be clear, such support undermines not only national ambitions to pursue a low-carbon energy trajectory but also international commitments to ban the production of the very pollutants that Waste-to-Energy projects emit, contaminating the air, soil and water our survival depends upon.”

For the think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) in the Philippines, genuine consultation with stakeholders and experts should guide AIIB to climate-aligned financing directions that hold no preference for fossil fuels. Gerry Arances of CEED further emphasized that: “In its proposed 2022 Energy Sector Strategy, AIIB peddles the myth of fossil gas and LNG’s supposed role as a transition fuel for Asia, and even as a contributor to energy security. But massive gas expansion brings a methane boom that will cause us to miss our climate goals, and will trigger more costly electricity prices even as they are already at an all-time high. AIIB cannot boast of being ‘lean, clean, and green’ if it cannot even take a firm policy to divest from fossil gas and focus on renewable energy. More so, AIIB must address the glaring gaps in its policy implementation which lead to investments that directly contradict its own commitments to the Paris Agreement.” 

Echoing this sentiment, Kate Geary from Recourse (UK/Netherlands) concluded: “At a time when the AIIB has committed to align its investments with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, it is vital that the bank gets its energy investments right. This means moving out of fossil fuels and into supporting sustainable renewable energy, to improve energy access across Asia, especially for poor communities. A true consultation would open space for those most affected by climate change to share their concerns and propose alternatives – instead, AIIB has chosen to effectively close the door on their engagement.

Background Information:

Open letters jointly signed by civil society organizations across Asia, Europe and Latin America have raised questions and concerns about the AIIB’s process for updating its Energy Sector Strategy and have been submitted on several occasions since January 2022. A sample of these letters can be read here: https://www.forum-adb.org/aiibcommunications These letters have called for the AIIB to: 

  1. Post translated draft texts of the proposed Energy Sector Strategy Update in major languages of regional and non-regional members;
  2. Schedule online interactive discussion sessions held in different time zones and languages
  3. Engage  in focussed discussions with civil society groups on specific types of project-related concerns (such as on financing for hydropower dams or gas power projects) as well in country-specific contexts where AIIB energy sector investments have been most concentrated to date; 
  4. Accepting written input in major languages of member countries;  and
  5. Proactively responding to the range of concerns about the risk of reprisals experienced by outspoken community members in project-affected areas.

The full statement of denunciation made by civil society groups to the AIIB during the  May 19th Session can be read here: : 

https://www.forum-adb.org/post/collective-statement-for-the-energy-sector-strategy-update

Press Contact: 

Tanya Lee Roberts-Davis, Energy Policy and Campaigns Strategist, NGO Forum on the ADB| Email: tanya@forum-adb.org   

Dennis T. Paule, Communication and Support Liaison Officer, NGO Forum on ADB l Email: dennis@forum-adb.org 

Interview with Nguyen Thi Nhat Anh by Sonia G. Astudillo and Dan Abril

The Centre for Social Research and Development (CSRD), a self-funded NGO based in Hue Vietnam, works to seek justice for vulnerable communities, especially women.  A team of four women with diverse backgrounds from environmental science, economics, and public policy, these women are passionate about seeing other women excel not just in Hue but also in their project sites in adjacent provinces in Central Vietnam and lower Mekong.

GAIA sat down with Nhat Anh, CSRD’s Director and one of the youngest directors in the network, to talk about their work and future plans. 

Nhat Anh is a GAIA-BFFP Asia Pacific Communications Officers Fellow whose graduate school thesis on water management motivated her to pursue environmental NGO work and leave her life in Hanoi to join CSRD in Hue city.  

What are CSRD’s top priorities?

Top of our list is women waste workers especially those in the informal sector.  We conduct action research to identify issues related to them such as a lack of benefit and support from the government.  Our focus has always been on women and how they are affected or will be affected by climate change.

Why women?  Because while Kinh women in Vietnam are a power within the family, they are almost always the most vulnerable in the community especially in the rural, mountainous areas and in the informal sectors.  

What are the main ongoing campaigns? 

We are doing research on the current waste direction in Hue city. This will guide us in our projects in the coming years.  In this project, we also have some activities to seek sustainable livelihood initiatives whose aim is directed towards a circular economy and supporting waste workers in generating additional income.    

In the past, we also conducted trainings on preventing sexual violence for women.

Aside from being one of the few organizations in the network working on women empowerment, what are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?

One is promoting women waste workers’ role in Hue’s waste value chain, especially waste pickers in informal sector in An Dong ward through feminist participatory action research (FPAR). In the FPAR project, we treat our participants (women waste workers) as co-researchers. We try to understand everything about waste from the perspectives of women who are working directly with waste every day. After that, we can understand their demand and capacity to have suitable suggestions or support.

What challenges are you facing?  How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?

Last year, COVID delayed our activities and we could not work with the communities. We cannot organize the women and not everyone has gadgets to communicate and coordinate the work.  In 2021, the government too became so strict with people’s mobility because of COVID 19.  To overcome that, we partnered with the local government to organize the communities and it helped us move our work forward.  

What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?

Our landfills are filling up. There are waste treatment facilities near rice fields. Landfills in Vietnam are nearly filled.  Because of this, the health of the residents, including women waste workers, are impacted seriously from the waste leakage and smoke from burning waste.

How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next few years? 

In the next 5 years, we still focus on climate change and waste management. Our target groups are still vulnerable women, not only women impacted by climate change but also women in waste informal sector. We also want to raise public awareness on the vulnerability of these women. They are strong women, but they still need empathy from others.

Finally, we also want to apply the concept of a circular economy in the Zero Waste communities and see it being applied in people’s livelihood.

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now?

When I participated in the AP Comms Officers Fellowship – it changed my way of thinking. In addressing the waste issue, we can maybe start from consumption but let’s not also forget the importance of the production side.  Humans buy a lot in the inevitable trend of modern consumerism and it is not always easy to change their habits but we are trying with the communications campaigns on waste.  I think it is necessary to pay attention to companies and how they manufacture their products, and to make them accountable. However, we need to balance both sides, because without demand for unnecessary single-use items, we can lessen our use and production of it.

Education is the key, especially schools in the K-12 system, and even universities.  My young brothers see my behaviors and feel quite abnormal in comparison with their friends. But, luckily, they still form some good habits such as refusing unnecessary nylon bags. This is just a small example to demonstrate the importance of education at home and at school.  I think to make greater impacts, we need a Zero Waste curriculum embedded in the formal education system. Here, students can gain updated knowledge on sustainable development and global issues like climate change, and they also have chances to practise Zero Waste at class level. I believe in the youngsters, they are the future of our Earth! 

Along with this bottom-up approach, we also need to promote appropriate policies at school, district, provincial and national levels from top-down view. Policies pave the way for teachers’ initiatives to be replicated. However if teachers and students themselves don’t want to change, the policy, no matter how good, is difficult to implement effectively. Therefore, we need consensus from stakeholders at all levels. 

Do you collaborate with partners in other regions? If so, how?

We work closely with the local government and the Vietnam Women’s Union, a socio-political organization that represents the voice of women, to promote policies and programs which bring better benefits to vulnerable women.  The Union is a mass organization in all levels, from central government to villages, and they play the role of implementer for so many policies related to women.  

We also work with other organizations in the region depending on the kind and sector of projects in progress.

How does your work on waste relate to social justice?

Our work with women waste workers is social justice.  Women waste pickers are informal employees and receive terrible income without social and health insurance. Women waste pickers contribute to the recycling sector and yet they are usually left to live in poverty.

We work to strengthen their capabilities and enable them to earn more income in a sustainable and circular way. There are lots of solutions all over the world, but the best solution are activities which meet the demand and capacity of local people and can be run by themselves. Therefore, local action is very important in our work.  

I believe that waste management is better for women because women are more in touch with the domestic path.  Women leading the waste management system can lead to better understanding and then better support to women waste workers in both formal and informal sectors.

Who do you admire most in the environmental work (in your country or in the world)?

I admire so many people.  Everyone has strong points.   But it is women waste pickers whom I consider our silent heroes.  Not known but they contribute a lot to protect our Mother Gaia.  When I organize meetings with them, I feel their positive energy. Women waste workers take pride in their work, and know that this work not only caters for them but also protects the natural environment. Their tasks might seem menial but are for our Earth.  

A drop of water makes our ocean so we need small but regular efforts from every individual, especially waste collectors and pickers, to keep our Earth green.   

_________

Interested in empowering women waste workers in Vietnam?  Check out www.csrd.vn and support their ongoing internal research on waste production to identify the value chain of waste, production, and consumption.  More funds can support other sectors that this all-women team want to investigate.  CSRD is a member of the Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance (VZWA),  a network of organizations and citizens who share a strategy for applying Zero Waste practices to better manage solid waste, reduce plastics, save natural resources, and protect Vietnam’s environment. 

Photos courtesy of CSRD-Hue

The United Nations Environment Assembly adopts the proposal to create a mandate addressing plastic pollution at every stage and recognizes role of informal waste workers during its fifth session in Nairobi (UNEA 5.2)

MANILAThe Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and the #breakfreefromplastic movement welcome the adoption of the landmark mandate calling for the development of a global plastics treaty which was adopted during the resumed fifth session of United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2).

The mandate titled, “End plastic pollution: Towards an international legally binding instrument”, opens the negotiating table for governments to come up with a legally binding treaty that covers the entire life cycle of plastic.

This treaty, which is urgently needed to address the plastic crisis at a global scale, is expected to be developed and finalized over the next two years, led by the International Negotiating Committee (INC). 

If plastic production and use continue to grow at its current rate, its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 could be equivalent to the emissions of more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants. At this rate, emissions throughout the plastics life cycle threatens any possibility of meeting global climate targets. Moreover, plastic pollution goes beyond national borders. Toxic plastic particles contaminate water, air, and the food chain, ultimately harming human health.

Advocacy groups across Asia Pacific reiterate the call for a Global Plastics Treaty that:

  • addresses the full lifecycle of plastics and its impacts
  • integrates the voices and experiences of waste pickers
  • provides accessible and transparent data on plastic production
  • enforces strong Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) with clear upstream targets
  • has clear language against false solutions such as incineration, chemical recycling, among others.  

“We are elated that the contribution of informal waste workers is finally being recognized by this governing body,” Froilan Grate, GAIA Asia Pacific Coordinator, said. “This is an important milestone. Our members and communities have shown for years how critical their role is in achieving Zero Waste. .“ We hope that this opens the door for more discussions on their livelihood, protection, and security

Ahead of UNEA 5.2, more than two hundred environmental groups in the Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) movement and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) in Asia Pacific, and over 1 million people across the world, urged their respective governments to support the call towards a legally binding plastics treaty that covers not only marine plastic pollution but the full life cycle of plastics—from extraction, production, use, and disposal to remediation.

Quotes from environmental organizations and leading experts can be accessed here.

RECORDING POST-UNEA 5.2. ASIA PACIFIC MEDIA BRIEFING 

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EARTH Thailand: Banking on citizen science towards environmental activism and protection

Interview with Penchom Saetang by Sonia G. Astudillo and Dan Abril

Filing an EIA lawsuit. Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

For Penchom Saetang, Executive Director of EARTH Thailand, it all started in the 1991 chemical explosion in the port of Klong Toey in Bangkok that ripped chemical warehouses and shanties in the area.  With over 23 kinds of chemicals stored in the warehouses and a newly established military government, “the Thai officers could not handle the explosion, nor identify the kind and volume of chemicals present.”

Together with like-minded friends, Penchom organized a public seminar to explore the situation and demand the government to release information about the explosion and provide assistance to the victims.  By the end of 1991, a Toxic Chemical Committee was formed to assist victims, discuss industrialization issues, assess existing industrial policies, and provide support for banning hazardous chemicals. 

From the committee, this Liberal Arts and Journalism graduate, set up the Campaign for Alternative Industrial Network (CAIN) in 1998 and eleven years later in 2009, CAIN gave way to Ecological Alert and Recovery or simply, EARTH Thailand which was registered as a foundation. 

From 3 to 4 staff, EARTH now has 10 regular employees and while it has the same objectives and mission as CAIN’s, the work has greatly expanded with more activities like environmental monitoring in communities, tools to analyze chemicals in the environment, and more experts in the field who can provide assistance including legal assistance to the community.

GAIA sat down with Penchom to talk about EARTH’s project, plans, challenges, and successes. 

What are EARTH Thailand’s top priorities?

We promote social and environmental justice to communities affected by bad waste management, illegal dumping, and communities that are being affected by hazardous waste recycling. We also work with communities affected by the waste trade of plastic scraps and other scraps. In 2008, the Thailand and the Japanese government were entering into a contract on economic partnership or the form of free trade agreement.  We learned that the draft bipartite contract would allow waste trade and that once we enter into the partnership, Japan can send in their waste to Thailand.  We could not stop the partnership because a number of Asian countries already signed it.  That was the first time we had a campaign against the waste trade. Since then, we wanted to know the impacts related to waste imports.  We found that Thailand imported huge volumes of plastic waste from other countries and there was an increase in this importation in 2018 when China signed the Sword Policy banning the import of plastic and other materials.

Ban Plastic.  Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

What are EARTH Thailand’s main and ongoing campaigns? 

We work on the waste importation issue.  This includes plastic, electronics, metal scraps, and other hazardous waste.  We are also opposing the recycling of electronics and hazardous waste and also pushing for the Basel ban amendment ratification.

There are several waste-to-energy project proposals in the country and we are opposing that too.  

We have several citizen science projects on environment, health, and reducing industrial pollution.  What we do is we provide support to communities to have environmental monitoring and sampling and support them by producing reports that they can use to push the government to solve environmental issues in the area.

We also work with partners on other issues such as mercury and sustainable development.  

What are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?

What we do is strengthen the community and give them a better solution / stronger negotiation to their problem. Our role in supporting the communities has stimulated/encouraged the actions of the environmental and health agencies.

Some concrete achievements like in 2002, we succeeded in the campaign in calling for additional health damage compensation provided to the chemical explosion victim of 1991 from the government.

We are also a part of the social movement to support the Minamata Convention and Basel Convention. We supported the government to ratify the Minamata Convention and the Thai government now had accession to the Minamata Convention. This year the government is considering ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment. And now we are campaigning to end the plastic scrap importation to Thailand and we hope it will succeed.

Using the citizen science approach, we have set up environmental monitoring activities in different communities. This can empower the communities in their fight with industrial pollution and toxic waste problems in a number of communities.

We do research to support lawsuits of communities against the hazardous waste recycling case and in 2020 one community in Ratchaburi Province which had fought for almost 20 years against the recycling company won a class-action lawsuit against the recycling company

There are three levels to our work:

  • Community which includes training, consultancy, data gathering, and simplifying information for their use in environmental movement
  • Connecting with international network such as IPEN, GAIA, and CSOs in Thailand
  • Policy Advocacy and law improvement which involves advocating for environmental law.
Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

What challenges are you currently facing?  How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?

There are many.  There are external factors such as in the earlier period of our activities, we found that we cannot coordinate with agencies such as environmental agencies that should be working on industrial pollution. There was no collaboration there.  Recently, it is getting better but still challenging because the biggest environmental policies are being dominated by industrial investors or big businesses.  It is difficult to overcome them, particularly in the legal & policy areas.

With regards to waste management, plastic waste is very challenging, especially at the policy level.  Local political parties and authorities didn’t want to enforce measures to encourage the general public to reduce plastic waste. Plastic reduction is still on a voluntary base.  We still have a lot to do to solve the plastic issue.

With environmental justice, our problem is the mentality and attitude of the government and judicial authority. The process takes a long time.  We need a platform for dialogue to change attitudes and mindsets on environmental justice.  We need to think about how we can enter into their way of thinking.  Corruption is also a big challenge.

Internally, EARTH has a big problem with staff turnover.  Most of the staff stay short term and often move to other fields such as the government or private sectors or pursue higher education.  Every time it happens, I have to start again and train new staff on how to analyze data, do advocacy work…  It is hard for us to continue working efficiently and to conduct effective campaigns. In fighting the hazardous waste and pollution issue, we still need more knowledge and technical things to strengthen our action and campaign.

The budget is also difficult because we have to raise funds.  Projects last for four years at most and we have to comply with all the requirements of the funding agencies and it is difficult to handle everything.

With the pandemic, we cannot move and do environmental monitoring, particularly in impacted areas. Project implementation could not happen and there are an increasing number of online meetings and conferences. 

What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?

There are big issues such as environmental contamination/deterioration by industrial pollution, the state of marginalized people and their land rights and then there are dam constructions and climate change related to deforestation.  Lots of things but now the big challenge we have in Thailand is about special economic development.  It is a  big and tough challenge for CSOs and many communities.  Thailand just declared 3 provinces under the Eastern Economic Corridor (ECC) when they will receive a special period in investment and we know those industrial investments do not always go well with environmental protection.  The government also announced more than 20 special economic zones across the country and those have all become pollution hotspots.

KhonKaen hotspot. Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

Farmers and agriculturists are affected, then the marginalized groups who are discriminated against under different laws but even more so with the special economic zone, and then labour groups discriminated against on their daily wage and no risk protection to chemical exposure, and then migrant workers who are the worst of.

Tha Thum Hotspot.  Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

These economic zones bring in big investors and corporations and all types of investments from multinational corporations.  We observe from 2018 that there have been an increasing number of waste recycling being promoted and constructed in the EEC area.  We launched a campaign against dirty recycling this 2021 and call for more regulations and measures to control toxic emissions.   Beyond air pollution, other problems from waste recycling are wastewater, land contamination, and illegal dumping.  Waste recycling is now one of the big problems of EARTH Thailand aside from WTE projects and waste dumping.

Lawsuit against dirty recycling.  Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next few years? 

We try to promote the citizen scientist team to have better technical knowledge with some scientific tools which can help them provide environmental monitoring and analyzing contamination in areas, provide good reports, and teach negotiating power to communities to policy and decision-makers.

We hope to develop local communities to campaign against dirty recyclers.  We can build the citizen scientist team to provide training support and provide consultancy to affected communities.  In parallel, we have to move on and advocate for other policy changes such as the modification of the environmental laws.

We will also campaign for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and continue working on it along with the circular economy.

Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

Citizen science is very important because when we talk about health, the environment, and science, people have the belief that those things fall in the hands of scientists, economists, and academic institutions.  When we want to do environmental monitoring, the community doesn’t have the skill to do that.  But we have to fight environmental problems.  Citizen scientists need to work with the community.  If we don’t have a device, we can’t do anything and we can’t ask for assistance from academic institutions for free.  People need to depend on people.  If we’re fighting pollution, we need to strengthen citizen science and use our knowledge and provide support to affected communities.

Citizen science approach is used by many countries to empower the negotiation skills of the people.

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now? 

Waste importation from the west is still happening.  Thailand and other countries in the region are targets for dumping due to corruption in these countries and the low labour cost. 

Plastic waste is related to consumption and economic “development”.  We have to keep watching this issue because it will be a big crisis in the future even if countries have policies and similar goals to reduce.  

I call this the crisis of recycling.  Low-income countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and other low-income countries in Africa are dealing with the plastic waste trade because richer countries can send their waste to them in the guise of recycling and there are no environmental regulations to control this.

Who inspires you the most in the environmental work (in your country or in the world)?

I respect and admire those who contribute to public interest and social well being, no specific idols. I learned from some teachers and friends during my schooling and undergraduate life and I wanted to do something related to public interest like them. After graduation, I initially was not interested in environmental work.  But later, I realized that in this area, I can do something for the greater good.  

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Interested to support the work of EARTH Thailand?  Visit www.earththailand.org/en/

The scale of global plastic pollution has been brought to light in recent years. Over 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, and more than 90 percent of it ends up in landfills, waste dumps, incinerators, and on lands and waterways. Like many other countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is dealing with growth in both domestic consumption of single-use plastic and waste arriving at the ports in the name of trade. Indonesia has been labelled as the second largest contributor to ocean plastic leakage after China. In addition to the amount estimated to leak into waterways and the ocean (9 percent of the 4.8 million tonnes of plastic waste generated in Indonesia every year), the majority of plastic waste in the country is being inadequately managed through open burning (48 percent), dumping on land or dumpsites (13 percent).

In response to the unprecedented plastic pollution crisis, fast-moving consumer goods companies and the petrochemical industry have supported and promoted countless miraculous-sounding technologies, pushing back on their bad reputations as major plastic polluters. CreaSolv is Unilever Indonesia’s flagship project on this front, and the media has touted it as an example of a technological innovation that can solve the entire global plastic waste problem by recycling the lowest-value plastic.

Two years after the highly-celebrated launch of the pilot plant in Indonesia in 2017, however, the fuss around the CreaSolv project quieted down as the company secretly shuttered the operation. Reports from local investors revealed multi-layered fallout of the CreaSolv project, from the logistical difficulties of sachet collection through challenged economics around the end products.

Presently, several Asian countries have national regulations or bans on single-use plastics. Bangladesh, the first country to have a national ban on plastic bags, passed the ban in 2002[1], long before the problem of single-use plastic bags became a mainstream issue. China issued a ban in 2020 with phased implementation[2], the first phase of which started at the end of 2020 and the last phase commencing in 2025. India also issued a ban on single-use plastics that will take effect in 2022[3]. Implementation has generally been found to be wanting and some national bans have been said to be riddled with loopholes. In countries without a national plastic regulation or ban, local governments have taken it upon themselves to regulate single-use plastics. There are cities that have figured out how to do it right — resulting in high compliance among households and reduction of plastic waste generation.

In this publication, we put a spotlight on the cities of San Fernando (Pampanga) and San Carlos (Negros Occidental) in the Philippines; Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, India; and Jakarta, Indonesia. Hopefully, these policy models can catalyze other cities and communities to expedite efforts in addressing plastic waste, starting from regulating single-use plastics.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bangladesh-environment-plastic-idUSKBN1Z51BK

[2] https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2021-03-23/china-single-use-plastic-straw-and-bag-ban-takes-effect/

[3] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/govt-bans-manufacture-sale-and-use-of-identified-single-use-plastic-items-from-jul-1-2022-1840562-2021-08-13