When it comes to ocean plastic waste, our Indian Ocean neighbour Indonesia is one of the worst effected areas in the world. Its densely populated coastline and lack of infrastructure means it's just about drowning in plastic debris, with 7.8 million tons of plastic waste produced in Indonesia per year. 625,000 tons of which ends up in our oceans.
Indonesia is also a hotspot for marine diversity, with one of the most crucial ecosystems in the world. These habitats are now facing a number of challenges thanks to widespread pollution and that's where Honest Ocean Material come in.
Tom Jackson and Angus Fleming of Honest Ocean Material are giving single use plastics a serious intervention, fighting the war on plastic waste one plastic debris at a time. We recently pulled up a digital seat with Tom who spills all about his mission to prevent, collect and recycle ocean-bound plastic waste, while empowering local communities to do the same.
For those who haven't heard of Honest Ocean before, can you give us a rundown of what your organisation is all about?
Absolutely. So we collect and employ local communities throughout Indonesia to create a 360 solution in collecting ocean waste.
Beautiful! So what's a 360 solution?
It's stopping waste before it gets to the ocean, and making sure that every part of the supply chain is creating a complete circle so they're not creating more plastic in the world that we have to continuously stop reaching areas within 200 metres of riverbanks, and within five kilometres of the ocean, especially in a rainy season here.
Anything that's close to the ocean just gets swept right on in there. So, we are always patrolling beaches and outskirts of towns. We also deliver curb-side as there's no infrastructure here for recycling like we have back home, like rubbish collection, so we do a bit of that as well. So, we're trying to keep that loop going.
How was the concept behind Honest Ocean first born?
Two years ago it was born out of frustration. Frustration of working out here on CBS and seeing local students trying to stop Indonesians burning plastic waste. We tried to offer them money, instead of them burning their plastic, but they couldn't quite understand that.
So, it was born for the education and changing the concept of what people have been doing for many many years, and offering a commodity where waste is of value. That is really the main goal.
You've identified that Indonesia has the most heavily polluted waters when it comes to plastic waste...just how bad are we talking?
It's the second worst, after China. Which is pretty bad because China is a massive place, and China has stopped taking other people's waste since last October. And now the next overflow is Indonesia. 44 Garbage Trucks a minute is essentially the roundup for Indonesia, with 88 tonnes of direct waste ending up on the shoreline every hour thanks to the winter currents, including Australia's plastic waste.
What are some of the ways in which Honest Ocean is working with the people of Indonesia to combat the waist issue?
The unemployment rate here is 4.1%. and what we try and do is work with the government to offer the people jobs and encourage people to bring us material that they've collected themselves, so they can essentially work for themselves. We'll then put it on a scale and give them cash directly for how much they collect.
So wherever they are, they could bring that to us or we'll send trucks around, which will collect from them every Thursday. So that's the way we work with them, and we have anywhere from 75 to 150 people collecting on a daily basis across Jakarta Surabaya, and a smaller collection in Bali here.
Is there a lot of interest from local people who are keen to work for Honest Ocean and do they see the value or the money in it, or is it a mixture of both?
That's very interesting question because here in Bali, they see waste picking as like the worst job you can have. We even offered a guy here to run his own collection and he'd end up being wealthy here, but he said he wanted to lay bricks instead. So we've had to combat that weird stigma around it but it's mostly been well received.
Once we do have the infrastructure and the recycling system catches on, we'll look at implementing machines to sort through the plastic waste instead of getting individuals to manually sort through it all.
What's a blue economy vs a green economy?
I'd like to touch on greenwashing first. Essentially, we've found a few companies doing greenwashing here like SC Johnson did. They basically started a collection, took pictures of themselves in local communities, and then they closed the centre the next day.
Greenwashing is essentially making yourself look good in terms of having that sustainable side, which all companies need to have a budget for, and then closing it down or doing a media stunt for it. We've seen that a few times.
A blue economy is the prevention of anything entering the ocean or extracting it from the ocean. A green economy is basically general recycling on land and anything to do with offsetting by planting trees, for example.
What are some of the products you produce as a result of recycling plastic waste?
In terms of physical products, we aren't doing any but we will be doing so in six years time. The goal at the moment is to sell the recycling system, so we're currently partnering with the recyclers to break it down into little flakes and little pellets which is then sent for companies to make into into new products that they primarily use. We work with a company called Tide in Switzerland who make recycled watches. Lots of hard products like that.
Unfortunately, we do work with a few companies that put it back into food grade packaging. Single use, which we're trying to convert them away from, but it's still better than than using virgin plastic at the moment, which is new plastic.
Is there a piece of plastic waste that you have found is the most common?
Flip flops. They're made up of straps or different bits of plastic and a bit of foam in the middle and the straps float. But then there's fishing nets, which is obviously a big one that we all know about. And we've just partnered with Four H to take the material that they can't use and turn it into bars. A new thing we're doing is called plastic credits, which is a cryptocurrency.
People and companies offset it the plastic waste which we then set into bars, (so like gold billion bars) and we press it. Basically 1000 plastic bottles is one bar and what we found through this is the most common material is actually shoe based fabric, which is really difficult stuff to do anything with, but we're working on it.
What would you say the top three tips that people can apply within their homes the people can do to reduce their waste are?
These are pretty common tips and are a little bit old school:
1. Carry around your own reusable cup. That's a big one and you'll be amazed how much you actually save on waste.
2. This one might make people angry, but buy things you need, not things you want.
3. Reuse one item as many as you can, even if it's a single use item.
We always say that you vote through your purchases and a lot of people legislate the 'we're just a small fish in a big pond' but the more that people ask for things and the more that people purchase certain things creates a demand for those products. The markets is led by consumers, so vote with your purchasing power.
In terms of where we are currently at with COVID and borders being shut, are you finding that you can make more or less of an impact?
We've found that people are more worried about COVID and less concerned about waste, meaning roads are closed and life is slightly harder on the mainland. There's a lot that we're still doing, but the government is making it hard to manoeuvre, especially because we almost act like a recruitment company and we have to look after other people and put them on our current sites.
But more remote places we've seen are getting less bogged down with waste, especially the mangroves and we can spend longer working there.
What are some of the goals you hope to achieve over the next 10 years through recycling ocean bound plastic waste?
To have the whole of Southeast Asia pretty much in an operational position. So, Vietnam, Philippines and here in Indonesia. We'll also be looking into Africa, mainly Ghana, within that timeline. Our goal is to get local people and local communities to work for themselves, and to be able to create material and get paid a premium for that service. Creating little waste heroes of Southeast Asia is the go!
Do you think that Honest Ocean is on track with achieving these goals?
We've been a little bit behind, mainly because of the government and people not being paid. Bribery out here is still the main currency so we're having to work on how we do that. There's been a lot of pushback in terms of people who have already been collecting regular waste and they're not letting us in to certify their operation, which is 50 kilometres from the ocean which we think is a very large amount.
So we're concentrating on getting five to ten of our workers verified so they can actually export the waste from the country instead of recycling it locally. And that's the main issue because it's such a manufacturing hub here in Indonesia, Australia manufactures a lot too. 35% of people here are Chinese, so you've got a lot of investment in infrastructure here.
We're fighting a constant battle, but we're getting there slowly. As a social enterprise, we're really trying to get people to do things for the right reason, but people are just trying to put food on the table so that's our main goal for enticing people.
A lot of Western Australians consider Bali a second home. If any want to come over and help / assist when travel restrictions ease, is there something in your model that's going to allow people to volunteer?
Absolutely. When travel restrictions are gone, we'll have a number of things you can do. So we partner with my co-working space here called Dojo. They provide accomodation and a work area and the plan is to run weekly clean ups and look into the local infrastructure here and try to change it.
People will be able to spend a week or a few days here. We'll get them to come out on our daily operations and jump on one of our trucks to see how we can clean the beaches and really get involved. Eventually it will be like a working holiday program!