Timorese youth tackle waste and unemployment, one bottle at a time

Timorese students clean up the streets of Dili, the capital city
Timorese students clean up the streets of Dili, the capital city. Photo by Felomena Marques De Olivera/ UNDP in Timor- leste

Timor-Leste is a tiny country with a huge trash problem. Water is not potable -- as a result, plastic bottles of all sizes can be found everywhere, marring the country’s natural beauty and creating hazardous health and environmental conditions. The problem is especially glaring in the capital city of Dili, where the bottles are an eyesore in a town that serves as the hub for the country’s ambitious tourism development agenda.

But a small group of Timorese university students have a plan to clean up Dili, and eventually the rest of the country, bottle by bottle.

Making Timor-Leste Beautiful is the brainchild of UNDP and the Timor-Leste Hopeseller Leadership Center, an NGO created and managed by youth.

Highlights

  • More than 60% of youth are unemployed in Timor-Leste.
  • A youth initiative funded by the Republic of Korea and supported by UNDP raises awareness about environmental issues and creates job opportunities.
  • More than 3 million plastic bottles were collected for recycling since the launch of the project, and 3 million more are planned by the project's end.

“We had two clear goals in mind. First, cleaning the environment,” says 28-year-old Pedro Redenio Adersio Canisio Ferreira, Hopeseller Project Manager. “The second is to promote inclusive growth with participation from youth and the public to create a profitable business.”

With support from UNDP’s Social Business Project and funding from the South Korean Government, the young team developed a recycling business proposal whereby Hopeseller would buy bottles from people, clean and cut them into small parts and ultimately sell them to outside importers of recyclable waste.

Indicators of success include achieving 80 percent awareness of the importance of a clean environment and gathering 100,000 plastic bottles within six months of launch, by June 2014.  Collectors make $1.00 for 100 small bottles or 70 large bottles they bring to the central location each week.

 “We aim at a longer-term impact that will ultimately change the behavior of the people through education and raise awareness about the importance of the country’s environment,” says Ferreira.

Making Timor-Leste Beautiful emphasizes the role youth have to play in the aspirations and development of their country. Approximately 60 percent of the country’s 1.2 million people are under 25. An estimated 61.5 per cent of this population lack viable employment or income-generation opportunities.

By targeting youth involvement, Hopeseller is providing income-generating opportunities throughout the entire process. Around 20 youths are now being employed to handle the cleaning and cutting of bottles. Profits are folded back into the business to eventually expand beyond Dili and its environs.

 “Companies are interested in buying water bottles for recycling purposes so there is the potential to turn this into a viable commercial enterprise,” says Knut Ostby, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative. “A pilot project like this makes it possible to start more businesses doing more of the same, eventually spreading across the whole country.”

 Making Timor-Leste Beautiful launched its first official bottle collection in December 2013, gathering 17,560 bottles. In February, Hotel Timor, one of the country’s oldest hotels, signed on with Hopeseller to handle its plastic bottle recycling, as did the Ministry of State Administration and the UN Country Team. A local businessman with ties to the recycling industry has expressed interest in working with the team to move that component of the project forward.

As for the goal of collecting 100,000 bottles by 30 June 2014? Hopeseller has far exceeded expectations. As of this writing, they had collected more than 3 million bottles and were planning to collect 3 million more by the end of the project.

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