Empowering community champions to improve waste management

Written by: Korakot Tanseri, Head of Experimentation, Accelerator Lab

December 20, 2022

Community members being trained to become waste champions in Hatsady Village


“The environment is something filthy, dirty and smelly.” When asked “what is the environment?”, this was the answer from a villager from Hatsady village of Vientiane Capital during the baseline survey for the Community Waste Management Experimentation.

The answer was unexpected, but it reflects how villagers define the environment around them and suggests that better waste management is needed to improve their living conditions.

During the survey conducted with 20 households in June 2022, it was found that 90% of the persons managing waste in the household are women, usually the mother or grandmother. Moreover, most of the waste was not segregated despite the fact that there is a Decree that instructs citizens to manage and segregate their waste. In practice, it is not easy for people to segregate their waste, because there are no segregated bins available, and the waste collection services mix all waste together. Most citizens thus feel that there is no point in segregating waste. This behavior and practice were also identified during the Accelerator Lab’s study conducted in 2019.

Taking stock of the survey and the 2019 study conducted to understand the waste management system in Vientiane Capital, especially the behavior, the waste collection and the waste treatment, the Community Waste Management (CWM) experimentation was designed to test the following hypothesis: the citizens in Hatsady village better manage their organic and recycle waste if they see value in it.

It was clear from previous studies that providing segregated bins and explaining how to segregate waste would not be enough to spark a behavior change. That is why the CWM experimentation needs to go further and is designed around 3 components:

Learning from other countries’ experience - Other Accelerator Labs in Vietnam and in the Philippines have worked in the design of waste bins and conducted rapid ethnographic research that identified persona that can support CWM experimentation. We drew lessons from these experiences to accelerate the implementation and reduce the risks. Through a co-creation workshop in August 2022 gathering the villagers of Hatsady, the community designed the bins that they wanted to use, they elected the waste champions they wanted to guide them and they choose the incentive system. The co-creation process increases the sense of ownership from the villagers, the understanding of the concept of the CWM experimentation and foster the legitimacy of the Community Waste Champions.

Creating excitement and ownership – The Community Waste Champions are mainly women from the village, they were elected on the basis of their skills, standing within the community and motivation. For instance, one woman was selected as Community Waste Champion because she sells lottery tickets so people thought that she would be good with numbers and help to manage the funds. The Champions received training on waste management, waste segregation and accounting for them to be able to guide and train their peers afterwards. During the existing weekly Saturday community clean-up activity, the Community Waste Champions regularly guide other villagers to implement waste segregation activities and inform on the progress of the CWM experimentation. Moreover, the Champions were given posters to use when explaining waste management to other villagers. All the efforts are to really empower the Champions. We had previously learnt in another project that behaviour change happens when people are influenced by their peers. In the present case, the Community Waste Champions are insiders who live in the area and as such, they can influence effectively and directly their community in a sustainable way.

The organic waste system – Homebiogas 7.0 – and the segregated bins were handed over to the villagers in early December 2022, in the presence of the village chief, local district officials, as well as representatives from Vientiane Capital and the Ministry of National Resources and Environment. There was great excitement at the event and everybody wanted to take selfies with the Homebiogas system and the bins !

The monitoring part of the experimentation is starting now. The Champions will promote this new community waste management to other villagers, guide them on how to use it and record the quantity of waste collected and sold. Of course, the main objective is to learn if the villagers would better manage their organic waste and recycle waste if they see value in it. But the underlining objective is also to reduce the quantity of waste that ends up in a sub-standard landfill, littered or burnt openly.

In 4 months, the data collected will be analyzed and the lessons of the experiment will be drawn to explore if the concept of Community Waste Management can be improved, replicated and sustained through a strong financial scheme. At the end of the 4 months, we will ask again the question “what is the environment?” and hopefully, the answer will be different.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the United Nations Development Programme.