PIA Challenge Image

2017 Inclusive Waste
Management Challenge

The following challenge was proposed by MIT’s Practical Impact Alliance (PIA). PIA welcomes the MIT community to propose creative, innovative, and scalable solutions related to inclusive waste management.

Inclusive waste management initiatives engage all actors in the waste management cycle (including waste pickers, multinational companies, municipal governments, NGOs, waste management companies, residents and others) to create shared value for all stakeholders and ultimately broader economic, environmental and social impact. Unlike in more developed economies, low-income countries tend to lack the infrastructure necessary to provide effective waste removal, recycling, and composting. This gap is often filled by waste pickers and/or interventions by the private sector and civil society.

Over the last decade waste management in low and middle-income countries has greatly benefited from innovations including business-to-business recycling, technology to create a second life for inorganic waste material, means to generate value from organic waste, and the organization of waste pickers into unions and cooperatives like KKPKP and SWaCH in Pune, India and Luz del Futuro in Nicaragua, to name a few. Multinational companies such as Danone and Johnson & Johnson, and social enterprises such as Wecyclers and TakaChar have contributed to new innovations in waste management. However, much more work is needed in order to create viable waste management solutions that create scalable answers to serious issues, including public health, sanitation, livelihoods, and climate change.

Thus, MIT’s Practical Impact Alliance is proposing an exciting challenge for MIT students to develop scalable solutions in the space of inclusive waste management.

Here are a few examples of issues that could be addressed through this challenge:

  • Improving waste pickers’ collection technologies, processes, methods
  • Enhancing waste pickers’ income and quality of life
  • Increasing companies’ access to information about their products’ presence in the waste stream
  • Incentivizing consumers and organizations to recycle and segregate waste
  • Creating a second life for materials
  • Turning waste into a new value stream
  • Creating transparency in material markets between buyers and sellers
  • Encouraging inclusive waste management systems by valuing the contribution of wastepickers in a given area

There are also some broader questions that could be addressed through this challenge. Here are a few examples:

  • What solutions can be provided to integrate waste pickers into the formal economy to provide them livelihood income?
  • How can you design inclusive recycling initiatives that balance social, environmental, and economic impacts?
  • What is the extended responsibility of producers of waste?


Although PIA has a preference for solutions that are applicable to low-income countries, developed world solutions are also acceptable, as long as they have the potential to provide positive social impact at scale. The solution could be software, hardware, or process-focused.

In the IDEAS program, judges will also be looking for innovative solutions to this challenge. By innovation, we mean a transformative solution to a complex community problem or issue. Innovation can be a product, a process, a technology, a market-based solution, or a service that is either entirely new or is being used in a novel and beneficial way.  Innovation creates value and new opportunities for the community and offers benefits that are an improvement on previous efforts.

Sponsor for this challenge

This challenge is supported by PIA and originated from PIA’s Inclusive Recycling Working Group. PIA fosters collaborative action and shared learning among a community of change-makers from within leading business, social, governmental, and academic institutions. By bringing these independent actors together, PIA aims to catalyze change within organizations, generate and disseminate useful knowledge, create practical innovation, and enable effective implementation of market-driven solutions to poverty. Through PIA’s activities (working groups, summits, innovation challenges, etc.), member organizations can increase their individual and collective impact – all while leveraging and supporting the work of MIT programs focusing on global poverty alleviation.

One of the four PIA working groups in 2016 is focused on Inclusive Recycling. Through monthly case presentations and discussions, the group is examining the relationships between different actors in inclusive recycling value chains, and exploring how to design programs and interventions that generate shared value. PIA members in the group include companies Danone, Johnson & Johnson, and Philips Healthcare, non-profits Melton Foundation, World Vision, and Phosboucraa Foundation, and social ventures TakaTaka Solutions (part of the Siemens Stiftung empowering people Network) and Wecyclers.

Opportunities for MIT students

Teams of students who wish to address this problem should contact Melissa Mangino, Student Engagement Coordinator for PIA at MIT D-Lab, to learn more about the challenge, potential community partners and mentors from the PIA network.