Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact
1) Survey Results during March 2010 (68 respondants): It was encouraging to learn that 98% of San Ignacio respondants reuse grocery plastic bags as garbage bags in their bathrooms and kitchens. 2% burn them or throw them away. This is encouraging, but still a short-term solution because when full the bags still end up as garbage. Results might also have been skewed as participants self-selected and chose to approach the Shop Green booth at the San Ignacio market, or were students enrolled at Galen University.
2) Initial bag sales March-April 2010: All 50 Canadian bags were sold for $5USD each and orders were placed for more, indicating community interest. The social impact was almost immediate as shoppers were seen using their bags at the next week's market and around town.
3) Support of local entrepreneurship: Sourcing locally made bags was a major challenge because we wanted to support local enterprise but had difficulty finding a source. One day Mr.Lobos came up to our booth at the San Ignacio market. He makes large and stylish bags out of reused sugar, rice and feed sacks. A partnership was formed and 50 more bags were ordered from Mr. Lobos to be resold for $7.50USD (they are larger and more appealing than the Canadian bags). Another source is Galen University student Lissette Aguilar who makes small purses out of cassette tapes, and laptop carry bags out of discarded plastics. She designed an instructional manual for the Interact clubs and is willing to guest speak and show them how to make marketable arts and crafts out of recyclable materials.
4) In terms of social impact, the enthusiam of youth in both interact clubs bodes very well for creating lasting change in Belizean shopping habits. Shop Green will also capacity build as students learn business skills to market, sell and educate about Shop Green.
5) Lastly, funding for environmental projects in the community will be sure to have a positive impact for communities and the future.
Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing
This morning I was offered a small bag for my purchase of large trash bags! There are few efficient waste management systems in the small country of Belize, and discarded bags end up on roadsides, in the sea, or burned in open pits. Belize's population is small - 300,000 - but our plastic garbage production is vast.
"Across the world more than 13 billion bags are issued every year to shoppers--that's about 220 per person. On average they are used for 12 minutes before being discarded, but then they remain in the environment for thousands of years" (Fighting the tide of plastic bags in a world awash in waste, CNN EcoSolutions, July 18 2008).
Belize has the 2nd longest barrier reef, and is marketed as an eco-destination. Plastics are destroying this beauty. With 386 kilometers of coastline Belize marine habitats are exposed to many of the negative effects of plastic bags. Marine life is threatened by plastic bags because many animals mistake them for food—such as sea turtles who confuse plastic bags with jellyfish. Another issue associated with plastic bag waste is bioaccumulation, or the buildup of toxic substances in organisms in a food chain.
Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?
The project has four main objectives:
1) Reduce excessive garbage from disposable plastic bags
2) Educate the public about the negative impact of plastic bags on the environment
3) Raise funds to support environmental education programmes run by youth
4) Develop a business plan that can be replicated in other villages
Our first step was to conduct community surveys to determine if San Ignacio and Caye Caulker community members were indeed interested in Shop Green, how they currently used plastic bags, what issues they identified as important in waste management, and what they deemed a reasonable pricepoint for our bags. Next we designed the educational displays that would accompany the sales tables.
One of the biggest challenges to Shop Green was finding a locally produced source of bags to replenish the original 50 bags imported from Canada. We got very lucky. Mr. Lobos and his wife noticed the crowd at our sales table at the Saturday San Ignacio market, and came over to investigate. Mr. Lobos makes attractive, large and durable bags out of recycled sugar and rice bags. A partnership was established that would not only support Shop Green's youth environmental project goals, but also support a local entrepreneur.
Our initial bag sales went very well indeed - we sold out in a mere two weeks. However, this success could also be a hindrance. Belize's population is very small, and thus there is a limited local market that could quickly become saturated. However, we believe the project will grow because of Belize's tourism industry. Many of the bag purchases were by international students studying at Galen and tourists, in addition to local market shoppers. Caye Caulker and San Ignacio are both tourist meccas. Future expansion could be San Pedro (the country's largest tourist centre) and Placencia (southern village) and Corozal (northern village).
One concern was whether people would remember to use the bags in daily shopping. If they bought but then left them in the closet, the project would not truly be a success despite financial gains. We were happy to see Shop Green atthe market the very next weekend after initial sale.
Lastly, our emphasis on Belizean youth to sell and benefit from Shop Green is both an assurance of the project's sustainability, as well as a potential pitfall. Youth have the enthusiasm to take the project to new heights. They also graduate from high school to move on, and new youth need to be recruited and trained to run Shop Green, and educated about the environmental projects the club is supporting. As co-founder of Ocean Academy I plan to live in Belize for many many years, and hopefully I can be the link between current students involved in Shop Green, and future enrollments.
Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible
Year One: Shop Green was proposed to Galen University students as a service-learning project for "Applications of Sustainable Development" course. This year's students created a small business model from the ground up, provided seed money for bags, created educational displays, instructional manuals for youth, and made donations towards two Interact Clubs. The rest of this first year lies in the hands of the high-school students in both Interact Clubs: Sacred Heart in mainland Cayo, and Ocean Academy on Caye Caulker island. These clubs will use profits for a childrens' park and river cleanup, and beach cleanup and mangrove restoration projects respectively.
Year Two: Profits will be reinvested to grow the business, as well as support the aforementioned environmental projects. Galen University will again offer the course Applications of Sustainable Development in Spring 2011. Modest funding is available to the Galen students to expand and strengthen the service-learning project. A goal for this year is to have the high-school and University students take their Shop Green message, business model arts and crafts to the primary-school students in San Ignacio and Caye Caulker.
I would like to see the project diversify to include other arts and crafts items made out of reusuable materials. When I went to Cuba I noticed cool toys made out of Coca Cola cans, like airplanes and cameras, and that might be a neat idea for high-school students to explore. Innovation and youth go well together, so ultimate the University and High-school students will lead the way in creating other marketable products.
I would also like the Galen University students to research and propose solutions for targeting excessive plastics at the source: local shop owners and mindsets surrounding customer service. What incentives for waste reduction can be offered to get both sellers and buyers to Shop Green?
Year Three: The Galen students will once again be invited to be part of the project team in their Spring Semester. The goal for this year is to contact highschool clubs in other regions of the country and expand both the Shop Green market, as well as the scope of environmental projects being done by youth in their respective communities.
An ambitious goal would be to have the two founding clubs travel to each other's village to discuss business models, and see the environmental projects each is undertaking. Belize is small, but transportation to and from the islands is pricy: round-trip San Igancio to Caye Caulker is $32 USD/person (public bus, taxi to marine terminal, water taxi). As well, most Belizean homes don't have guest rooms so accomodations and meals would be another expense. Skype is blocked in Belize so virtual meetings are not an option.
If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?
I said "no" above because in our first three years the focus in on educating the youth, and supporting their local environmental intiatives. However, I think Shop Green will begin to attract media attention, and from there perhaps political attention as well. I believe Shop Green is a piece of the puzzle, and shows the power individual actions can have on the collective; however, waste management issues in Belize need to be addressed on a larger scale. In our business model we started year 1 by contacting the consumers. Year 2 will address the suppliers. Year 3 will focus on expansion. But year 4 could perhaps target government and public policy as a primary project goal.