Meet Sam from Ministry of Waste who tackles beach plastics in the Philippines and connects local communities to global leaders of sustainability and waste industry innovators to tackle the issue of plastic in the ocean. She speaks honestly on the power of local communities and how starting her project gave her life a deeper sense of purpose.
Q: What’s the mission of Ministry of Waste?
Ministry of Waste connects disadvantaged and polluted communities in Asia with waste industry innovators and global leaders of sustainability by creating a recycled ocean-bound plastic supply chain through which we stop litter before it enters the ocean. The uniqueness about MoW is that we don’t rely on volunteers but allow local communities to profit from this new demand of ocean-bound plastic – by employing them, as well eliminating many middlemen in the supply chain by trading directly with the final client, therefore being able to pay our local community members fair wages.
Q: What inspired you to start?
After a month-long diving trip in the Philippines, I came back to Europe with an urge of wanting to do something about this issue. The idea pivoted with the help of my fellow Escapees at Escape the City in London and shortly after I met Francois who decided to take the leap with me. Most people love the idea and find that it’s courageous, it definitely is not an easy task and there are days when it just seems to be this gigantic mountain in front of me. Quite literally a mountain of plastic waste
“I’m very glad I picked this idea as the first one to work on, because it definitely gives my life a deeper meaning and sense, and almost every day I feel great about making a difference in the world – one step at a time.”
Q: What’s your biggest achievement to date?
We are a brand new social enterprise, just about to launch our supply chain in the Philippines, but we have had a few great milestones to boost us on the way – we have been selected as one of the startups to integrate the Cambridge University Social Venture Incubator and have had success in securing our first client, not forgetting the great welcome by local Filipino organisations with whom we hope to create long-lasting partnerships.
Q: What are your plans for the next 6 months or year?
After our first expedition in March in the Philippines, we will be launching the supply chain in May – hiring our first 20 local members of MoW and starting full-time beach cleanups, after this, we aim to increase our local team by 20 more members every month. By 2019 we should be employing a minimum of 100 members locally and cleaning a minimum of 300 tons of beach waste per month, and as well looking into establishing our own recycling facilities.
Q: What do you wish you’d known at the beginning?
The moments when we got to speak to different big brands were very eye-opening (ex. CocaCola), as I had no experience in supply chain management or procurement, especially not within well-established organisations. We definitely learnt quickly how to adjust our business model depending on the potential client we are speaking to and will offer 2 types of collaboration. We can either supply recycled ocean-bound plastic as material, or we can offer a possibility for a brand to adopt a beach, which sometimes works better within a brand’s sustainability program.
Q: Who has inspired you the most?
There are 2 TED talks which have helped me putting words on thoughts which I didn’t know how to do before I watched them. They are a great summary of 2 pressing issues in this day and age – charities, how people view them and why it’s wrong by Dan Pallotta, and “dead help” – the great talk from Ernesto Sirolli about Westerners trying to help people without asking.
Q: There’s increasing awareness of the difficulties of creating a truly fair and ethical supply chain for plastics. What’s your gut reaction to this Guardian article on plastic poverty pollution?
I think this article paints a very true picture of the recycling world which had China in its centre. Now, thanks to the ban on the waste material import, China as a country and many of the waste recycling communities will be able to recover again. It’s hard to predict what economic effect that will have on the communities whose main income was recycling, but I can clearly see the health and environmental benefits.
With MoW, we are not planning to create these types of recycling communities and our local community members won’t be burning or in any other way processing the waste more than cleaning off the sand/corals and separating the marine litter into different categories. We will work with large and government approved recycling plants, which we aim to assess for health and safety to make sure they align with our core values – we won’t support unhealthy labour in any form.
I think this video explains and shows much better how our process at MoW will look like: building a community, working together for a great cause, while making sure no one’s health is harmed in the process, the few key differentiations being – the volume we will process and our status as a social enterprise.
Q: How can people get involved?
There are different ways you could help us spread the word about Ministry of Waste. We are always looking for new clients for our recycled ocean-bound plastic (mostly HDPE, LDPE, PP and PET) – so if you have any connections within the supply chains of companies that create objects from plastic, let them know about MoW. This summer we will launch our beach adoption program and welcome you to urge brands to participate – every little count and will allow us to expand and recycle even more marine bound debris. On a personal scale – keep an eye out, we will be looking for people to come along on our expeditions and we will be launching a crowdfunding campaign in May as well. Thank you!
Find out more about how Ministry of Waste is tackling the issue of plastic in the ocean at https://www.ministryofwaste.org