be Waste Wise Pioneers: A Q&A with Ranjith Annepu

Plastic Pollution Coalition was honored to be named on the 2017 be Waste Wise Pioneers List, an annual compilation by be Waste Wise that recognizes 30 organizations that are effectively sharing solutions to waste management and stories about their work.

PPC spoke with be Waste Wise co-founder Ranjith Annepu about the origins and methodology of the list and critical need for waste-wise communities. 

Tell us about why you co-founded be Waste Wise.

In 2013, I was at a sustainable development conference at the World Bank. They organized one of the best sessions on waste management I have ever been a part of. That day, in a single room, I was surrounded by so many world-class experts that I felt I was in a "black hole" of waste management expertise. Super excited about everything I heard and learned that day, I wished others like me who are searching for solutions to and through waste can also get lucky by being able to access such expertise. I talked about this with my friend Katrina Mitchell and that's how be Waste Wise started. She and I co-founded it.

How do you decide on the be Waste Wise Pioneers list?

We started with our Twitter Waste Influencers list, which had 95 members on February 17, 2014. That list eventually grew to include 900 members in 2017. 

We look at four key metrics for all members from data which is publicly available. Our goal is to choose influencers who had high content quality, content quantity, and social media popularity. We then created separate lists for individual influencers and influential organizations. 

Specifically, we looked at four key metrics:

  • Follower-to-following ratio on Twitter – this is a measure of popularity, which reflects how connected, relevant or representative they are.
  • Average number of tweets per day – this is one way to measure how active an account is.
  • Social Authority score – this is a metric from Followerwonk that is highly correlated with the number of retweets an account gets. It measures quality of content shared.
  • Klout score – this metric from Klout is highly correlated with follower counts on all social networks. It is another measure of popularity, but across all social channels.
  • Separate lists of individuals, universities, and media organizations will be published soon too.

Why is it important for organizations to share solutions to the waste problem?

We talk about waste being a global challenge with local solutions, but our efforts in disseminating solutions do not reflect that. They are inadequate. Poor and inadequate information is widely available through short blog posts, no pay-wall websites, memes, and infographics on social media. Such information is easily consumed by the public and communicated passionately. However, knowledge about waste solutions is only available in lengthy PDFs, expensive and time-consuming conferences and behind pay walls. The number of waste professionals who communicate regularly about solutions can be counted on fingers. When a project fails due to inadequate information, we incur health and environmental damage, as well as economic and political costs. More importantly, we incur the opportunity cost to create change.

I organized and helped organize many conferences in the U.S. and India, and wrote a report, which was nearly 200 pages long. Those documents and events are very important for a diligent researcher or a waste consultant. However, not all decisions are made by us. They are made by a larger community of people - policy makers, government officials, businesses, and the public - who do not always have enough time or resources to study long reports or attend quality conferences. A few never learn about waste until it becomes a priority in their community. We have to complement the knowledge in reports and conferences with shorter, easily accessible, and more engaging formats of knowledge dissemination.

Sharing solutions is important but that’s not enough. We also have to create engaged communities. 

We have to share solutions consistently in order to create waste-wise communities and individuals who will recognize the importance of waste management and will be aware of their options. Change towards sustainable local solutions cannot happen without the involvement of this wider community.

When my colleagues and I began bringing together leading-edge professionals to engage with the wider community, we realized that there was no community. We do not have a global waste community because we are fragmented, regionally and sectorally. We have only one functioning global organization, one global magazine, and zero global companies. We are divided into composters/bio guys, landfillers, waste to energy guys, anti waste-to-energy guys, recyclers/zero-wasters, social mitigators, etc. This means that there isn't much incentive to address waste management at a global scale. For us, this meant we had to simultaneously build a global community which engaged people around all types of waste solutions.

Engaged communities enhance the process of learning by providing opportunities for discussion and debate, as opposed to a person learning in isolation. Also, communities outlast individuals. Similarly, knowledge gained by communities outlast individual expertise and can lead to long-term change. Such learning and long-term change will provide us with the most efficient way to address the global waste challenge.

What are some things each of us can do to reduce our waste today?

All of us can REFUSE single-use plastics! Or even better, refuse single-use plastic after a week-long self-exploration with #trashonyourback 

Take the pledge to refuse single-use plastic

Read the facts about plastic pollution.

Join our global Coalition.