A York graduate’s innovative effort to tackle waste in the Philippines.
In the UK, recycling and waste are everyday subjects. Theoretically, we know how to sort it, we know about our oceans of waste, we acknowledge the need for a solution. But what about outside the UK?
Waste is an international issue, and as such is inevitably tied up with the social and political contexts of individual nations. The UN stresses the need for member nations to create sustainable goals that work within a framework of economic and social stability. So how are other countries and continents addressing the problem of waste?
It was while bed-bound with tonsillitis in Manila that Matt Barrie, a PPE graduate of the University of York, came up with the idea for Solu. Walking around the city, he had been struck by the abundant waste on the streets. “It was a horrible eyesore,” he says, “And a health risk too: the vulnerable were living amongst waste which promotes the spread of disease.”
An average street in Manila
He describes this as a problem faced by the developing world at large, not unique to the Philippines. The South-East Asian boom has given rise to a growing lower-middle class for whom purchasing single-use items is fashionable, while waste management strategies have not kept pace. This has led to rivers of waste flowing through the city, which is eventually swept out to sea.
So why don’t the Philippines have a similar system to the UK, with door-to-door recycling collection? Barrie explains that this strategy cannot be applied to other countries with completely different climates and city structures. He lists the lack of funding and appropriately trained workers as key obstacles, exacerbated by a poorer infrastructure which makes it difficult to reach all residential areas.
Additionally, there is a political aspect: in the Philippines, elections are held every three years, and consequently it can be difficult to implement sustained and meaningful changes. Nevertheless, the tide of public opinion is shifting, and Barrie says that in the last five to ten years there has been an increasing focus on waste management in politics. In fact, in April this year, the current president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte closed a major island resort to tackle the built-up contamination. There is an amplified call for solutions – and this is where Solu comes in.
Solu is an app currently being developed with the aim of aiding waste collection, ensuring that it actually reaches the treatment centre, rather than build up in the streets. It’s a simple concept: users can sell their recyclable waste on the Solu app to local waste centres. Whatever is bought can be passed onto waste collectors and treated or recycled.