Rethinking IEC in pandemic times

Screenshot of video on IPCA’s Project SORT

Inform. Educate. Communicate. Three critical activities that contribute to the success or failure of any solid waste management initiative. Delhi-based Indian Pollution Control Association (IPCA) has been actively involved in conducting public awareness programs through initiatives such as SORT (Segregation of Organic Waste for Recycling and Treatment). We spoke to IPCA Founder Mr Ashish Jain about his organization and how its IEC activities have been impacted following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Ashish Jain, Founder- Indian Pollution Control Association (IPCA)

How has the pandemic impacted IPCA’s  activities?

Effective communication is the cornerstone of overcoming barriers to public participation in waste segregation. In a country like India, where a majority of the population barely understands the difference between dry and wet waste, the COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated information dissemination and awareness building. There is an added burden of explaining to people how they can identify and safely dispose of household hazardous waste such as masks, gloves, and other waste, especially when infected people are in home quarantine.

IPCA’s Plastic Clean-Up Awareness Drive

At the ground level, do you feel initiatives like Swacch Bharat Abhiyan have contributed to a change in people’s attitudes?

Yes. However, in a lot of cases, even if citizens are aware, there is an attitude problem. For instance, many people stop segregating if they find out that their neighbors don’t segregate. Another major bottleneck is that people want their efforts to have an impact and are discouraged when they don’t see their segregated waste being transported in proper vehicles with segregated bins.

Indians store everything they consider valuable, including newspapers. Since waste is not viewed as a valuable resource, they don’t think twice about treating it properly. It will make a huge difference if authorities incentivize waste recycling.

Pre-COVID outreach was mainly conducted through one-to-one interactions with stakeholders but that is now restricted due to the pandemic. How are you tackling with this?

The waste sector is one of the worst impacted due to the pandemic. Waste generation and composition have changed, and new strategies are required to maximize citizen outreach and education. Accordingly, we have changed our new campaign to explain how to segregate household hazardous waste in separate bins. We’re also making an app to reach out to a wider audience.

Also, we are using social media to inform and educate. For instance, we had a Live Facebook session to explain very basic concepts like types of waste, home composting, plastic recycling etc.

How is IPCA using technology to continue community outreach in these changed times?

We are in the process of developing an app to monitor our projects. We are also building educational content into the app. We’re arranging mobile vans with LCD screens to run videos as they drive across cities, creating jingles that can connect with mass audiences. This is all I can divulge at the moment.

IPCA’s awareness building campaign with students pre-pandemic

Educating and involving children and college students in waste management has been an important ICE strategy. With online learning becoming the norm, how is IPCA planning to carry out its student outreach?

We used to see a major difference in attitude and behavior in households when we educated children about waste segregation. The fact is, we cannot burden school children with additional online content so currently, that is on hold. The pandemic has severely impacted student outreach, which was one of our most successful initiatives.

In your experience, what makes an IEC program succeed – or fail?

Understanding your audience is the first step in designing content. One common mistake is that in order to make IEC campaigns look slick, campaigners use words that a lot of people may not understand. For instance, to educate maids, one must use pictures without text. For kids, humor works very well. Also, the message also has to be repeated at high frequency. For instance, banners and posters should be visible and wall paintings must stretch across the wall to retain in people’s minds. In Indore, which is ranked as India’s cleanest city, IEC plays a very important role. At every 100 meters, there is a hoarding related to SWM. Every citizen of Indore knows the difference between dry and wet waste. This kind of awareness-building has happened over the years through mass campaigns and constant repetition. Importantly, the right content is being transmitted to the target audience – the MC is telling them what they need to know.

About IPCA Since 2001, the NGO Indian Pollution Control Association (IPCA) has been promoting sustainable waste management practices at the residential level and among corporates, industries, educational institutes. IPCA has bagged several patents and awards in developing cost-effective and environmentally sound waste management strategies.

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