Return and Earn: Incentivizing Environmental Stewardship in Kazakhstan

July 27, 2022
Vladislav is transforming his community's attitude about recycling in Aksukent, Kazakhstan.

Many people look to warmer seasons with anticipation, excited for all that the good weather has in store—but not Vladislav. As a neighbor to the community landfill, Vladislav balked at the smell brought by warmer weather as heaps of litter baked in the summer sun.

It is really difficult to thrive in these conditions,” he says. “At some point you realize that you need to take action and make a change.”

Vladislav discovered that 82 percent of recyclable materials in Kazakhstan end up in landfills like the one near his apartment in Aksukent. With better environmental education and the right incentives, he supposed, the community’s attitude toward recycling could change.

In 2018, Vladislav launched an organization, Generation, to extract reusable materials from recycled waste and turn a profit.  He then launched an initiative called Eco-Cashback. With Generation’s Eco-Cashback program, Aksukent residents can earn money for recycling and sorting their household waste in one of the project’s four local recycling boxes.

The project succeeded in educating the community on the importance of recycling. “As a result of Eco-Cashback, people now understand that waste contains raw material and can be a resource that costs money,” says Vladislav. “The community’s mindset changed, and people became proactive about recycling. The village became cleaner and livelier.”

Generation encourages people to sort and recycle waste through the Eco-Cashback project

In response to this surge of support, Vladislav enrolled in EF’s Social Innovation in Central Asia project (SICA) Institutional Development Program (IDP). IDP connects cause-oriented organizations like Generation with expert mentors to develop and implement strategic plans. SICA’s experts helped Vladislav think creatively about his business’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth.

While public infrastructure in Aksukent could not sustain the large-scale recycling projects that he and his community now desired, Vladislav recognized that his business could. “With support from IDP, I realized I needed to build a company that will provide comprehensive services for the collection of post-consumer raw materials from organizations, businesses, apartment buildings, and residential areas,” says Vladislav.

Under IDP experts’ guidance, Vladislav applied for and won a Social Idea Accelerator Grant, also from USAID’s SICA. This funding allowed him to scale up his operations with new equipment and an optimized workflow.

Today, Generation’s recycling boxes dot the streets of Aksukent, inviting all residents to participate in cleaning up their city. And Vladislav, inspired by this taste of success, is ready for more. Equipped with the project management and strategic planning skills he learned in IDP, he is planning new projects to recycle food waste and conserve water.