One of the central lessons of our exploration into recycling indicates that to address its many challenges in Asunción and its metropolitan area, we must understand them as problems of collective action, involving relationships of trust between people and institutions, including those who generate waste in their homes, companies, communities, and the workers that collect, sort, dispose, and recycle waste. Our learning loop on collective intelligence for inclusive recycling continues here, introducing our experimental activities and the framework of existing knowledge and hypotheses that guide them.
Trust: a key factor for recycling and collective action
Considering recycling as a form of collective action means that the ability of people and institutions to solve waste management problems depends upon the levels of trust they share (Ostrom 1998). For example, people will be willing to adopt recycling behaviors if they know that others in their community will do the same. Alternatively, an external institution could provide services, infrastructure, and coordination to stimulate or facilitate individual behaviors (Mansbridge 2014).
Considering these concepts, recycling practices can be considered a collective action dilemma (Rompf, Kronberg & Schlosser 2017), especially in contexts of minimal or weak institutional coordination and with the following characteristics:
- Stakeholders participate voluntarily in recycling programs to improve the environment for everyone.
- The end result can be used by anyone, regardless of whether the individual enjoying the benefits recycles or not.
- Recycling is a public good, and its provision depends on the successful cooperation of a large number of stakeholders.
This key learning led us to a series of experimental waste picking and sorting activities that put inclusive solutions to test, addressing recycling behavior as a trust-based collective action dilemma and building upon an updated version of the main hypotheses that we had proposed in the article that originated this series.
Trust relationships are at the core of both hypotheses, among groups of waste-pickers and among waste-pickers and members of a community where waste is generated and where there is demand for sorting and collection services.
Experimenting to prototype, learn, and strengthen trusting relationships
The experimental activities that we proposed and carried out in recent months, within the framework of the Asunción Green City of the Americas – Pathways to Sustainability (Asunción Sustentable) project, consist of three interventions that address various forms of participation to promote or initiate relationships of trust.
The goal of participatory mapping is to systematize and socialize the lessons and insights that emerge from the waste-pickers themselves, as a starting point for the participatory design of new forms of coordination and management that can increase trust and cooperation among the members of the association. Together, we produced detailed maps of the waste collection routes and stops, including the types of waste collected, quantities, additional collection points that could have potential, as well as practices associated with the work of the 10 waste-pickers with which we collaborated. We also conducted in-depth interviews with different waste generating companies, intermediaries that buy and resell recyclable waste, and recycling companies.
Strengthening the San Francisco Neighborhood Waste-Pickers Association: The second line of work consists of a continuous line of support for the association, offering technical assistance and advice on a weekly basis to aid the association’s formalization and to strengthen cooperation, communication and interpersonal trust among its members. Within this set of concrete actions, and thanks to support from the Asunción Sustentable project, we were able to install a scale for the association members’ use in the building designated by Asunción Sustentable as a future recycling plant for the community. This activity transmits learning and facilitates the continuous participation of waste-pickers in each of the subsequent activities, assuring that they are well adapted to workers’ needs and contexts.
These three lines of action and experimentation have generated valuable lessons and stories that will be the focus of the next three installments of this blog series:
(1) First, we will share the detailed Toolkit we developed for our light urban intervention, along with the key insights gained.
(2) Second, we summarize the stories and lessons from the participatory mapping with the waste pickers of the San Francisco neighborhood, along with their proposals to move forward towards more cooperative and productive work.
(3) Third, we will conclude the series by looking at the future possibilities for UNDP, the city, and its citizens, from the perspective of the lessons we learned and that we will take to scale within the Asunción Sustentable project.
Lea este blog en español aquí.
* Collaborated in this article:
Claudia Montanía has a Ph.D. in Economics from Universidad de Extremadura, España. She is affiliated researcher of the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. Beginning in August 2020, she is supporting the AccLab team as an independent consultant, collaborating in data analysis and basic research.
Alejandra Acuña Balbuena is a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, part of the Master in Latinoamerican Studies Program (with a focus on Environmental Governance and Resiliency). She is collaborating with this series as volunteer, revising and translating drafts that summarize the many resources we have produced throughout our work.