October 28, 2019
By Puspita Insan Kamil

Plastic Waste along our Waterways Research Project: The Background (1)

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

Carl Sagan


My Dad is a blend of an architect and an anthropologist -- so I grew up in museums and historical buildings. Through all those magical years spent exploring, I concluded that human settlements developed highly along waterways. You can always name a big city on a river bank; or at least there is always a major river running through it. Growing into adulthood as a conservationist, I see water as a primary resource -- a source of life, something that we need to pay the highest respect to -- but that changed when I recently read a study by Lebreton et al. (2017).

The article states that four of the top 20 polluting rivers in the world are located in Indonesia. The study includes population as one of the variables included in the modeling, so at that time I wasn’t surprised considering our population number and density along our major rivers. At that time I was asking myself, “Is it true? Is it possible that we no longer treat our waterways as something sacred, which give us life? What are the things that made this happen?”. After I wrote down all my questions, I began looking for funding and pulled together a solid team. I phoned my social psychology professor, a GIS analyst, and the coordinator of a zero waste movement. We crafted the proposal intensively hand-in-hand, ensuring that our multidisciplinary collaboration will result in something that we can be proud of from scientific point of view.

Early in 2019, the National Geographic Society provided funding to support our search for answers to my questions in two large rivers in Indonesia: the Ayung and Brantas rivers. We started by listing all the methodologies that we will use in the field; to measure water debris and psychology variables that contribute to waste in our waterways. Geographical analysis is also a major part in this research, as we plan to draw conclusions and make sense of the results through place-based data.

After we locked in all methodologies, we purchased the necessary equipment for fieldwork: GPS, administrative maps, ropes, weight scale, boots, gloves, and additional security equipment. We undertook training, self-learning, and fieldwork planning. Because there is no single perfect methodology for all field work, after all the necessary equipment and skills had been prepared, we ran pilot studies and ground checking in Bali to test our methodologies.

From these pilot studies we earned valuable takeaways, such as how different the reality in the field can be compared to digital maps, the number of volunteers that we require, other equipment that we need to buy, and how extensive our logistics needs would be in the field.

So I packed my trekking backpack, full of equipment and questions, and then I headed off to look for answers. The next stage of this adventure, which will explore the relationship between human psychology with littering behavior in rivers, will be covered in the next article.

About the author

Puspita Insan Kamil,
Project Management & Research

A social psychology researcher with extensive experience in various human-environmental interaction research since 2012.

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