Paying Bus Fare With Used Bottles and Cans

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There was a Tweet published during Christmas about a recycling program introduced in Istanbul, Turkey.  The program provided commuters an an alternative currency to top-up their subway cards by inserting recyclable bottles and cans at the designated “reverse vending machines”. In exchange, these vending machines would then add credit to the commuters subway cards.

According to The New York Times, the initiative aims to encourage recycling in the city of more than 15 million people, where recycling practices are scant or indifferent.

Considering this rather innovative way of taking care of the environment in exchange for something useful to residents, what if, a program similar but relevant to our circumstances was implemented in Port Moresby.

Our city authority may have recycling and other envornmental, social care  programs but how many of these programs actually contribute to solving our social problems.

One of the most publicised programs is Yoga. Are there any statistics from reputable organisations to indicate that lives have changed for the better.  There may be some out there, we do not know.

But even if you consider Yoga as a tool or avenue to address some of the city’s  social problems, the program might be beneficial to only a selected few. It may  not even directly address the critical  social problems in the short to medium term.

Let’s take a look at Yoga and make some comparison with this proposed new innovative recycling program.

The point is not to mock yoga or any other similar program but to draw a comparison in order to determine which program better addresses our social problems in the short to mediem term.

The short to medium term time span is more appropriate under present circumstances for two main reasons. One, because of the level or “criticalness” of the problems we face and secondly our desire to find a solution as soon as we practically can.  Understandably, things take time but as mentioned earlier after 43 years of Independence and the rate of growth in the city finding a solution is paramount.

NCDC will reportedly receive 30 of the big APEC buses. What if, residents were given the opportunity to purchase bus fares through recyclable bottles and cans using the vending machines.

Although creating a rather different currency, the city authority would effectively be encouraging residents to take a recycling attitude. It would help, in part, the authority’s fight against litter.

Participating residents would then receive the benefit of having the NCDC  “put money in their pockets” specifically for, in this case, transport services.

In doing so, residents get a more immediate benefit through this program and effectively encourage a recycling attitude.  It creates a meaningful win/win situation.

In the case of Yoga, the impact on the mindset if successful has a more long term effect. The time span to change is much longer, and who knows, change might happen in another life.

Our social problems cannot wait for another life any longer. It requires immediate action.

Someone asked – why is it that Papua New Guineans expect a benefit for everything they do. Why can’t we just “change our attitude, for christ sake”.

Although a fair comment, we cannot expect change to just happen. We are all different and behavioral change differs from one another. But if we sit back and expect change or if change does hashish but slowly, our social situation could get so out of hand it would be at a point of no return. A point where we would only blame ourselves for being ignorant and indirectly allowing it to happen. It’s a race of time.

But the other more realistic and cultural significance of who we are as Papua New Guineans is that we seem to only care or show a little more responsibility for things that we directly own.

Anything indirect like public property we seem to care less.

Could we not take advantage of our own unique being for a greater social good?

And by providing a direct benefit to residents through this program, there is a real likelihood that a positive response from residents can be expected and in turn encourage behavioural or mindset change which after all is the ultimate goal a program like yoga is intended to achieve.

The next time you want to go from Boroko to Town, would you collect recyclable bottles and cans to use at vending machines in return for bus fare vouchers or would you hop on a bus and  tell the bus driver that you ain’t paying “coz my mindset has gradually changed as a result of doing 5 yoga sessions a week”?

The biggest problem in the city is that there is an increasing number of people with very little economic opportunities for them.

Unemployment and poverty are the core social hurdles which impede one’s presence and development in society. Those participating in yoga is a fine example of a social class facing this predicament.

With that in mind, the Government whether it be local or national ought to create opportunities that have the potential to directly address these issues.  That is all that is required and ultimately it is up to each resident whether or not to grab those opportunities.

And innovation like the program in Istanbul is just one way in which it not only addresses an environmental issue but in our case, it could potentially address more pertinent issues. By putting direct value in the pockets of those residents who take advantage of such programs, it can empower them economically and socially.  Who in their right mind would not want to take advantage of a program that provides a meaningful value into their household?

Now, you might be thinking that it’s just bus fares but it don’t need to be bus fares only.  Anything of value that hits the core of one’s household could be equally applicable.

Consider vending machines issuing medical vouchers or discounted prescriptions which residents could use at participating medical outlets and those outlets in turn redeem them from the local authority.

Doing Yoga weekly might improve one’s health. But at some stage in your life, you’re going to get sick, you’re going to get a headache and doing yoga won’t be a direct solution to your headache, right. Would you lay your mattress out and start doing stretches every time you felt sick? Surely not. But if you had vouchers collected from the recycling vending machine over time, they could come in handy the next time you need to buy medicinal supplies.

And of course there’s another opportunity like education vouchers.  You know, you collect recyclable material, deposit them at the vending machine and get education credits for public schools and come school time you can partially or wholly pay for fees or other education related expenses like uniforms.

And the ironic thing about education as we’ve all found out is that there’s no such thing as “Free Education”. But if you take this innovative idea seriously  even the government is bound to benefit with a greener environment, behavioural change in its citizens and a more educated populace. Make no mistake, Papua New Guinea parents want to send their child to school. The authorities need to provide innovative programs to break these barriers. Provide opportunities to break these barriers as opposed to “free handouts”.

It’s all about innovation.

Someone argued that this would be an expensive exercise.  Well, it might be it might not be.  But if you can host APEC, you can host a program with benefits that filter “directly” into one’s household.

If people’s lives can be improved just a little bit, just a little bit, it can trigger a mindset change. A change much more than a program like Yoga.  And when you have an improved lifestyle no matter the level, attending Yoga sessions can further enhance the mindset.

Meaningful, practical benefits are what we need. And innovation is the heart of creating programs aimed at achieving that.  The end result of course is an improved society that is mindful of each others presence and responsible in our actions.