Inspiring Stories 01 : TonToTon

Empowering waste pickers to protect the ocean with TonToTon

In Cambodia, the company TONTOTON – specialized in plastic pollution clean-ups – remunerates plastic waste pickers for non-commercially recyclable plastic waste, recognizing their contribution to saving the planet and offering them a decent livelihood opportunity. As plastic pollution disproportionately affects marginalized communities, this initiative is a game changer in a region that desperately needs solutions for its waste pickers.

Collecting all Ocean Bound Plastic (OBP) is a challenge that involves various actors and stakeholders, from waste pickers, recycling industries and waste treatment industries. If getting commercially recyclable OBP collected is relatively simple, when it comes to low or no value plastic it becomes mission impossible! TONTOTON is addressing this particular issue by paying waste pickers for collecting non-commercially recyclable OBP and paying for the plastic waste treatment. TONTOTON is then selling plastic credits (OBP Credits), as the source of funding for its operation.

In Cambodia, plastic waste is colonizing the villages of Tomnup Rolork and Oh Vietnam, leaving inhabitants with a living space that has become an open-air garbage dumpsite. In 20 years, these villages have suffered with thick layers of plastic wastes and seen their waste increase with rivers flooded with Ocean Bound Plastic (OBP).

Since 2019, starting in Vietnam, TONTOTON has been committed to reducing the impact of plastic waste supporting sustainable people-environment interactions. The company organizes waste cleaning of the villages and provides a stable income to every waste picker participating in collection activities: one waste picker can earn about 15-25$ per day depending on the quantity collected, opposed to the current daily income of low-skilled workers of about 2.2$.

“By the end of the day, I can earn up to 25 dollars. This is the only work I have, especially since the pandemic started. Who will do it for us if we don’t remove this waste? Living in these conditions is unhealthy: acting to do one’s part becomes a necessity.” explains Bopha, inhabitant from Oh Vietnam Village in Sihanoukville.

Once collected and weighted every piece of plastic waste is properly handled and treated through Co-Processing in cement plants, to serve as alternative fuel to coal thus ensuring the plastic is definitely out of the environment while reducing the CO2 footprint of the cement plant.

TONTOTON works with relevant agencies, NGOs, and the government to mobilise more waste pickers, deploy awareness and education campaigns, and urge the community members to take charge of their own clean environment. UNDP as a global imperative for instance, is one strong partner to implement a holistic approach to plastic waste management in Cambodia.

Additional to the environmental benefits, TONTOTON´s initiative generates positive impacts for local communities, giving them pride and self-confidence, one is recognized for his hard work and has higher aspirations for his family. Integrating waste pickers towards a more formal sector is crucial for a better waste management in Cambodia, and allowing them to earn a dignified income is a way to act against their stigma and exclusion.

“It is difficult to understand how challenging life is for waste pickers. At TONTOTON, we are convinced that working with orphan Ocean Bound Plastic allowing waste pickers to earn more money and doing a job that positively impacts their own community is a just reward to people who are key to waste management in many countries without being recognized as such. They are acting for the environment to save their livelihoods, we are acting for social inclusion to save their dignity.” asserts Barak Ekshtein, Founder and CEO at TONTOTON.

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