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SMS Creates Zero Waste in Buenos Aires

BY Justin Oberman | Wednesday, December 14 2005

has done it again. After 15 months of hard work, using mobiles for pressing local legislators with calls and text messages, the City Parliament of Buenos Aires will implement a Zero Waste policy that will, by 2010, reduce urban waste sent to landfills by 50%, 75% by 2015 and 100% by 2020. Those involved in the campaign are shouting "Victoria!" The city, with a population of 3 million, produces between 4 to 5 thousand tons of waste daily, all of which goes to landfills situated in the suburban areas. The law also bans the incineration of urban waste and includes a recycling program in which "cartoneros" (unemployed people that making a living by digging through the trash for recyclable items) will be employed to manage the process. When the legislation comes into effect, the city of Buenos Aires will become the most populated city in the world to implement a Zero Waste policy.

This victory comes only months after the group successfully .

"This was our first campaign in which mobile-actvism was the primary tool used to achieve a goal," says Oscar Soria, Greenpeace Argentina's Communications Director.

Shortly after introducing the legislation to parliament, Greenpeace Argentina launched a communication strategy aimed at influencing specific targets. The group placed advertisements in public bathrooms and their magazine asking people to join them as "mobileactivistas" (mobile-actvists) by sending a specific word to their mobile number. The senders number is then stored in an SMS database used primarily for real-time communication and action. Via this extremely inexpensive strategy more than 4,500 "mobileactivistas" participated in this campaign and, Oscar tells me, the database is still growing.Mobile activists sent text messages to legislatures and key players involved in the bills various hearings. SMS was also used to arrange spontaneous meeting points and demonstrations.

Text messaging allowed citizens and activists to stay on the ball and act quickly during the bills journey through the legislative process. When Greenpeace detected that the life of the bill was at risk due to a strong waste industry, Greenpeace, in "" style, immediately sent text alerts to all the mobileactvists on the database who in turn responded by pressuring specialists and members of the commission to approve the first proposal in order for it to move on to the next round of discussions. The pressure was exerted both by text-messaging and traditional methods but SMS was at all times the primary mode of communication.

"We started using SMS," Soria points out, "because of the higher rate of cell-phone use to internet use in Argentina."

SMS also has an advantage over email in that a person can receive important information whenever and wherever they are and thus take action immediately.

A couple days before the Parliament of Buenos Aires held their general session, Greenpeace sent a text message to all the mobileactivists on their database asking the recipient to call office legislators "right now" and tell them to support the "Zero Waste" initiative. The message also instructed mobileactivists to spread the word by forwarding the text messages to friends and family. "The reaction to this was very impressive," recalls Soria, "the message became extremely viral and our database grew as a result."

Mr Soria says that putting the mobile activists technology into the hands of the people had a major role to play in the Zero Waste legislations victory. "It was a very powerful pressure when legislators started receiving text messages from the common people who are also potential voters." This fact makes even more sense when you consider that it took place at the same time Argentina happened to be going through one of its legislative election cycles.

And yes, there were times that the mobile phones and landline's owned by legislators would break down.

"We knew that our message was being understood because of the mass quantity of people that joined the action," Soria points out, "It wasn't just Greenpeace activists that were sending the messages. We invited anyone to join our campaign and they did."

Besides being extremely cheap, text messaging went beyond the ability of just recruiting new activists. Soria adds, "It allowed each of those activists to communicate and take action in an extremely instantaneous and meaningful ways. "