Novel plastic pollution solutions in Indonesia
The ReSea Project is tackling Indonesia’s plastic pollution through commercial collaborations; using cutting-edge technology to unlock a novel business model that looks set for success.
Indonesia is a problem area for plastic pollution. In fact, according to the World Bank, Indonesia generates 7.8 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, more than half of which is mismanaged or disposed of improperly. These figures place Indonesia (home to 270 million people) as the second largest contributor to marine plastic pollution, behind China.
The country’s capital, Jakarta, is crisscrossed by 13 rivers that empty out onto Jakarta Bay including the notorious Citarum River; reputed to be ‘the most polluted river on Earth’. On average, 74 per cent of the waste collected from Jakarta’s rivers is mismanaged plastic waste, according to a recent study authored by MM Sari.
Jakarta’s plastic rivers are, therefore, the focus of many creative and entrepreneurial problem-solving efforts.
ReSea Project is one such effort. A Danish company with operations located in Jakarta, ReSea Project was founded on the belief that commercial collaboration has the power to ‘accelerate the efforts needed to solve the ocean plastic crisis’. ReSea’s partner businesses and brands invest in the company’s ‘clean-up missions’, with ReSea currently removing one kilo of plastic waste for every eight euros of investment. ReSea also helps partners to ascertain the right level of investment that reflects their business interests.
Explaining the ‘win-win situation’ of ReSea’s business model to Resource, Christine Tangdal — Head of Sales and Partnerships at ReSea — clarified how the project enables its partners to make a direct, positive and quantifiable impact, which it can then reference in marketing material that talks to the growing consumer preference towards environmentally-conscious brands: “We offer our partners a way to show consumers that they care, but also to make a documented and quantifiable impact here and now.
“Often if you support something it can be difficult to know exactly what your impact is in a measurable way, but since we are removing one kilo of plastic waste for every eight euros invested, the exact impact you help make is measurable.”
Certain partners prefer to involve consumers directly in their connection to the project, such as The Hidden Sea; an Australian wine company that — via ReSea — removes the equivalent of 10 single-use plastic bottles from oceans and rivers for every bottle of wine sold. Its company goal is to remove the equivalent of one billion plastic bottles before 2030.
The Hidden Sea is able to clearly communicate its environmental impact throughout its marketing materials. Printed on-product is also a QR code for a ‘customised landing page’ created by ReSea Project, which enables consumers to view collection data, visuals and narrative about how the company and its customers make a collaborative impact on plastic pollution.
Alternatively, partners of the initiative can ‘offset’ materials they are putting onto the market (products or packaging) through their involvement in the project.
“We don’t think one solution fits all. So we talk to the companies and figure out what would be the best fit for their specific needs and then we build our partnerships around that,” Christine says. ReSea’s overall “impact is 100 per cent dependent on company support,” Christine notes. The more companies ReSea has joining its mission, the more plastic it can collect.
“We have built a model where the most important thing for our companies and our partners is doing something good for the environment. They want to help clean the oceans. They want to remove plastic from where it really doesn’t belong. And they want to know that it doesn’t just end up back in nature.”
Traceable impact on plastic pollution
ReSea Project is able to provide such proof of source and onward journey via the high level of traceability afforded by the blockchain technology that it uses. In fact, ReSea is one of just two global organisations that are certified in removing plastic from oceans and rivers by business assurance provider DNV, and the project can say with confidence that it has collected 1.8 million kilos of plastic — purely since it was certified in January 2021.
The power of blockchain technology is being harnessed to make supply chains more transparent — as we explore further in our special report on the subject. The origin of the recovered plastic and every step of ReSea’s clean-up process is digitally tracked and verified using a ‘real-time validation system’ developed by public blockchain company VeChain. Data about each step of the clean-up is recorded and encrypted to form the different blocks of the chain.
A team of more than 55 plastic collectors manage the operation, with teams of two sailing out each day. The moment plastic waste is spotted floating in Jakarta’s rivers, the waste collectors document it with a picture and GPS coordinates, uploading the data to a mobile app and thereby creating an initial ‘block’.
Once the collection is done, and the boat is full, they head back to shore where they roughly sort the plastic waste, place it into sealed bags, tag the bags with batch numbers and register the number of bags collected, their weight and plastic-type into the app. A ReSea data analyst conducts sample checks with one batch from each collector checked each month to ‘ensure procedures are followed and to optimise processes’, and to validate the number of kilos collected.
At ReSea’s sorting facility in West Jakarta, the bags are weighed a second time with results once again registered in the app, marking the final block in the chain. The facility receives a weekly unannounced sample inspection by Intertek, ReSea’s third-party assurance provider, who also check that the first and second weight measures match each other. If there is an anomaly, an investigation is launched and if critical data points are missing from the batch, then the project voids its full weight. Final weight recordings are reduced by 15 per cent to account for water and dirt.
At the sorting facility, plastic waste is fine sorted into four categories: Polypropylene (PP), High-density polyethylene (HDPE), Low-density polyethylene (LDPE), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and ‘other plastics’, before being bale-pressed and sent to the projects partners for recycling.
“Everything we communicate is based on the weight of the kilos,” Christine says — pointing to why the accuracy of this information, thus reliance on blockchain technology, is vital to the entire project. ReSea takes the average weight of a plastic straw, for instance, and this offers consumers a tangible understanding of their impact — one kilo of plastic collected could be equivalent to 1000 plastic straws. Christine adds “we always help our partners communicate correctly, so we do guide them in how to best describe their impact.”
The result is that individuals and companies can quantify the real impact of their actions and the availability of this information presents consumers with an incentive to make environmental choices, thereby helping to mitigate Indonesia’s plastic pollution problem upstream in the process.
ReSea’s plans to expand its efforts in Indonesia before extending to other geographic locations around the world. Christine says: “We are always open to and scouting for new locations. Indonesia is the second most polluted area in the world in terms of ocean plastic. So, there’s a lot still to be done in Indonesia.”
The project and its business model could, however, already be having a global impact — offering a tangible case study for how blockchain technology might shape the future of supply chains, and how producers might directly contribute positively to the environment and be able to confidently communicate those environmental values to prospective customers.
ReSea’s believes that collective action is how we can make a difference to plastic pollution in the ocean and the project is setting the pace for real action, demonstrating that profit and purpose could pave the way to a protected planet.