Communication makes the world go around. It fosters human connection and facilitates participation which allows us to learn, grow and progress as individuals and as a society. While communication is vital to all our activities, communication for development (C4D) as its own right has gained momentum over the last few years. According to UNICEF, C4D involves understanding people, their beliefs and values, the social and cultural norms that shape their lives. It is a process of sharing ideas and knowledge so as to enable and empower individuals and communities to take actions to improve their lives (UNICEF, 2015).

One of the important functions of C4D is also to empower alternate voices to counter the dominant narratives that define and determine the status-quo. The dominance of particular narratives and viewpoints and the exclusion of others is not a mere chance. It is certainly a function of money, power and politics. Unless these alternative voices are brought to the fore, the dominant narratives stand a chance of being normalised through repetition and authority. Therefore, empowering these silenced voices would be fundamental to any advocacy effort. GAIA Asia Pacific/BFFP organised a communications workshop in Bandung on March 2-4, 2018 to address these issues and more and to align with its vision that has now catalysed into a movement, #breakfreefromplastic.

The Bandung workshop is the second in the series of communication workshops. The first was in Philippines in November 2017. This workshop aimed at enabling about 30 participants from 9 different countries in the Asia-Pacific region to jointly conceive a communications strategy for 2018. Such a communications strategy would help thwart some of the dominant narratives around plastics and waste, empower the silenced voices and make discernible the stories of successes from the different communities that deserve to be shared and celebrated. I was fortunate to be a part of this workshop, and suffice to say that these three intense days have been about as much learning as much as it was about unlearning. The blog is an account of the first day of the workshop.

The workshop started in the afternoon on March 2 with Sherma E. Benosa, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific setting the context for the participants and the agenda of the workshop. She emphasised the need for bringing all the advocacy efforts together to strengthen the movement by sharing stories from different parts of the world. One of the key outcomes of the workshop, according to Sherma was also strategise ways in which the communications team could generate, mobilise, share and amplify the stories from the ground to bolster the advocacy strategy.

Image 1: Sherma setting the context for the participants

The second session for the day on the ‘Strategic pillars of communication’ by Froilan Grate, Regional coordinator, GAIA, Asia Pacific, started with his account of the BFFP movement, its origin, history and the vision for the future.  He then asked us, each of the participants to introduce ourselves and to supplement the BFFP story with each of our personal experience on how we break free from plastic in our lives in our paths to becoming zero-waste. Every story was as distinct as it was powerful, setting the tone of the workshop that ‘breaking free from plastics is possible if we really believe in it’.

Image 2: Participants sharing their stories on how they break free from plastic in their lives

The third and the final session for the day was aimed at bursting the myths and misconceptions around waste and plastics. During this session, Froi encouraged every participant to shout out the common misconceptions on plastics that we have come across in our lives. Each of us participants, listed distinct misconceptions which we have encountered. Some of the common narratives centre around plastics being recyclable, biodegradable, hygienic, cheap, irreplaceable, not harmful, being eaten by fish, made from refuse and therefore environmentally sustainable. These misconceptions are being actively promoted by the industry and were being mindlessly internalised by the people and have found their way into the public discourse. We then proceeded to destroy these misconceptions or the dominant narratives with the help of both quantitative and qualitative data as summarised below.

S.No

Dominant Narrative

Alternatives

1

Plastics are recyclable

Recycling is not the holy grail. Is everything that is recyclable really recycled?

2

Plastics (straws/cutlery)  are hygienic

They are usually the favourite sites for insects to breed, especially the straws

3

Plastics are biodegradable

Plastics disintegrate into micro plastics and never leave our resources

4

Plastics are not harmful

Plastics leach and the smell and taste are toxic

5

Water in PET bottles are cleaner

Water in the PET bottles is sourced from taps

6

Plastics are simple, easy and convenient

Convenience is killing us

7

There is not a better alternative to plastics

The onus is on the industry to invest in R&D for sustainable alternatives

8

Incineration is the way forward

Incineration is expensive, harmful and creates more problems. It can never be a solution. Waste to energy is a myth

9

Plastic is cheap- cost of production is much lesser

On an aggregate, the cost of producing disposables in much higher compared to the cost of production of reusables

10

Maintaining resuables is resource-intensive (water to clean reusable cutlery/ clean cloth pads)

The environmental damage caused by improper disposal can never be off-set against the use of renewable resources

As the day drew to a close, we parted with two important questions for introspection and further inquiry during the course of the workshop and the Zero-waste cities conference that follows.

  • Why are cities warm on the idea of zero-waste?

  • What are the hurdles in implementing zero-waste?

And ofcourse, what’s a workshop without some fun? We ended the day with an absolutely fantastic dinner in the French quarter of the city.