Tbilisi and Batumi: Hubs of household waste recycling boost – for a clean environment

Posted October 27, 2021

Photo: Nino Zedginidze/UNDP

This blog introduces readers to the journey the Accelerator Lab Georgia is about to embark on – improving waste management practices in Georgia’s two largest cities – in the capital, Tbilisi, and in the seaside resort of Batumi to encourage recycling. The aim is twofold – protecting the environment and human health.

The project centres on running a randomized control trial in two cities to measure the impact of expanding the waste separation infrastructure in parallel with running a public-awareness campaign on PET (a type of clear, strong, lightweight and 100% recyclable plastic) recycling. We want to understand whether households would start recycling if:

  1. They knew more about PET waste; and
  2. If an adequate number of separation bins were placed next to the general waste bins where the persons throw away their garbage daily.

Recycling is pro-environmental behaviour, so we want it to become a social norm. Recycling has been generally seen as a 'first step' to catalyzing other sustainable consumption behaviours.

The idea for the experiment took shape when Accelerator Lab members first met almost a year ago. We received a list of topics to work on in UNDP: waste management featured prominently. As a warm-up exercise, we began sharing our personal experiences on the topic: how each person separates waste and what obstacles he/she encounters. Perhaps, this conversation was our most hands-on session, with UNDP colleagues and partners feeling engaged in the plan. After all, wasn't it our mandate to question the status quo and come up with ideas to accelerate the change we want to see?

Mapping the players

Although the waste management sector’s architecture is still under development, over several years the architecture has significantly improved and become diversified. The national legislation is now nearly wholly aligned with the European Union (EU)-Georgia Association Agreement. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Regional Development and the Solid Waste Management Company of Georgia ensure the implementation of the Waste Management Code (2014) and the National Waste Management Strategy (2016‐2030), while municipalities implement their own waste management plans.

In addition, thanks to the support of multiple international donors, numerous NGOs have acquired almost three decades of experience working on the issue. However, the most significant contributors to waste production - citizens and businesses – are still failing to adopt sustainable waste management approaches. The issue is especially problematic among households, where waste separation practices are almost non-existent.

A joint EU and UNDP initiative for packaging cluster development, entitled “EU Innovative Action for Private Sector Competitiveness in Georgia”, is one of the key players aiming to fill the gaps in the waste management system through more extensive private sector involvement. The project supports the business sector in coping with the Extended Producer Responsibility and recycling obligation that have been introduced for specific waste streams. The initiative also presented a key opportunity for AccLab to lure lab’s work into the country office portfolio on environment and waste management directions which brings a new perspective to the issue.

What we know so far

The stakeholder mapping exercise involved meetings with more than 10 organizations operating in waste management, including government, NGO and private sector representatives. The main findings of the meetings showed that a unanimous consensus was reached on the following points:

  • Households lack adequate knowledge and awareness on waste separation practices, highlighting the unpreparedness of cities to implement at-source separation strategies.
  • The municipalities’ capacity to monitor the amount of collected waste is insufficient, resulting in gaps in available data.
  • Several pilot projects with various levels of success focus on waste separation and recycling in different cities. However, most of them collect recyclables in public spaces, outside residential settings, where most waste is produced.
  • Most municipalities lack equipment for the separate collection of waste, and even when the public separates recyclables, it ends up in the same collector car  and landfills. Data on generated waste at the municipal level is unavailable for most municipalities. Moreover, national data is quite problematic. The estimates show that in 2015 Georgia annually produced and disposed of 700 tons of municipal waste in landfills, while in 2017 the amount increased significantly to 950 tons.
  • Producers of PET waste have shown an increased interest in creating sustainable waste collection practices to meet the new legislative requirements. Nowadays, up to 10 companies in Georgia sort, clean and process collected plastic. Some companies collect and process polyethylene foils and plastic bags producing polyethylene foils for packaging. The other companies collect plastic bottles (PET) and clean, sort and process them. The gained material, in the forms of flakes/granulate, is exported to and China, Iran, Romania and Turkey. However, these companies rarely target households as a source of plastic waste collection.

Based on the National Waste Management Strategy 2016-2030, Georgia must achieve the target of recycling 30 percent of plastic waste by 2020, 50 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2030, a relatively short time frame. Thus, urgent actions are required to accelerate the process and increase waste separation practices among the population and businesses.

The experiment design: awareness-raising campaign, nudging residents to step up recycling

UNDP Accelerator Lab Georgia designed an experiment using the behaviourally informed Randomized Controlled Trial. The experiment will involve two activities: first, measuring the impact of awareness-raising campaigns; secondly, gauging the availability of waste-separation infrastructure for household waste sorting practices. We want to understand why such practices are non-existent, and to move forward to devise and test solutions to nudge the population to adopt more sustainable behaviour.

This experiment focuses on nudging residents to step up recycling only. Mainly because it is the most widespread type of plastic and the easiest one to recycle in Georgia. Additionally, the experiment will only run among households in selected areas of Batumi and Tbilisi. Ultimately the goal is to make recycling a social norm for a clean environment.

The experiment has two components. The first one relates to infrastructure and involves placing dedicated containers for PET waste in selected neighbourhoods, close to municipal waste collection points. Here, we also want to test two hypotheses:

  • The closer the separation bins are to the residents, the more people will consider sorting waste.
  • Transparent wire containers create an additional layer of social control, thus encouraging neighbours to separate more.

The second component is the communication campaign -- the central part of the experiment.

  • First, we want to test whether the awareness-raising campaign has had a positive impact on residents. To that end we will focus on one of the neighbourhoods with our containers serving as a monitoring group. In practice, this means we will only place containers for the PET waste. We will not provide additional training for the residents relying instead on their existing knowledge of recycling.
  • Secondly, the remaining neighbourhoods will participate in various awareness-raising campaigns as a test to determine which communication method is most effective.

The amount of collected PET waste is the primary indicator to gauge the experiment’s success -- the more people will start recycling, the more PET we will see in the allocated bins.

Our partners – a multitask “force”

To implement the experiment, AccLab Georgia will closely work with a consortium of local NGOs -- Spektri, Parki ar Minda and Chaobi. The consortium has extensive cumulative experience in the waste management field, in awareness-raising campaigns and its members are operating in our target cities -- Tbilisi and Batumi. The consortium will contribute to the experiment by launching the awareness-raising campaign among the local population and by monitoring the waste collection process.

Tbilisi and Batumi municipalities are on board and also back the experiment. Eager to make their cities greener and more sustainable, our partner cities and their respective contractor companies, Tbilservis Group in Tbilisi and Sandasuptaveba in Batumi, will support PET waste collection and ensure its further processing for recycling.

We hope that both municipalities' active engagement will ensure the sustainably of the initiative. When AccLab completes the experiment -- and if it is successful -- the cities will receive the containers and communication materials to incorporate the lessons learned into their mainstream waste management practices.

Photo: Nino Zedginidze/UNDP

Photo: Irakli Dzneladze/UNDP

What’s next on the agenda

As mentioned at the outset, the purpose of this blog is to provide initial information on the Lab’s work for the next three months, and to open the door to a conversation around plastic waste separation practices among households – an important journey in the quest to protect the environment and human health thereby building the blocs of sustainable development.

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More information will follow as UNDP Georgia implements the experiment from October 2021.