Samudra is dedicated to solving global waste management challenges that don’t have a profitable solution. Here we describe what we do and why we do it, how we are different from other initiatives with similar goals, and how our work directly contributes to 15 out of 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN.
Waste collection services for everyone
Currently only 2 in 3 people worldwide have access to waste collection services. Every day 2.6 billion people face a choice of what to do with their waste. Some set it on fire, some add it to a dumpsite nearby, some drive long distances to dump it far away from home, some let the current of a nearby river carry their waste away. Ask yourself, what would you do if all the waste in your bin was yours to keep? At Samudra our goal is to minimise the number of people who have to make this choice.
Back to front business of waste management
Think of a successful company that sells a great product. How did they achieve that? They most likely started with identifying a market niche and learning about the target market segment. Then they made decisions about investment in appropriate infrastructure. Finally, they identified suppliers that can reliably provide sufficient amounts of the right types of materials required for production. If you’ve ever started a company, you know that none of these steps are easy. Now imagine how hard it is to build a successful company if you must follow these steps in reverse order! In waste management you don’t choose the composition or the amount of generated waste; everything that is produced in your collection area has to be processed. You then need to find a market for recyclable materials or products you can make with them yourself, but you cannot guarantee to your customers that you will be able to supply these continuously. Often the waste composition changes faster than the infrastructure investment pays off. As a result, waste management that doesn’t harm the environment or human health is often not profitable. At Samudra we are motivated by solving problems, not by profit. That is why we decided to tackle global waste management challenges that don’t have a profitable solution.
Maximum impact projects
Since we are not bound by trying to maximise our profit, we are free to work on projects with the highest estimated impact. As our first challenge, we picked marine plastic pollution because it is an urgent matter. It was predicted in 2015 that by 2025 there will be 127 million tonnes of plastic waste ending up in our oceans every year. 40% of this plastic pollution originates on land in Southeast Asia, an additional 40% comes from other regions and the remaining 20% originates offshore, mainly from fishing, shipping and oil industries. It is hard to estimate the amount of plastic already present in our oceans, especially because only 1-3% of it is floating on the surface. One thing is clear - it is easier to prevent more plastic pollution from entering our oceans than to eliminate the plastic that is already there. Hence our goal is to improve waste collection and treatment systems. Find out about our ongoing projects here.
Evidence weighs more than beliefs
Our aim is to make the world a better place, and the research we do provides us stepping stones along the way. Unlike other organisations with similar goals, we keep an open mind. For example, we don’t believe that recycling is always the best solution, that the less plastic we use the better, or that incinerators are more polluting than landfills. One reason is that very different things often end up under the same blanket term. Widely recyclable plastic packaging that reduces greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and medical devices that save lives are very different from plastic confetti dispersed directly into the environment. A well-managed landfill with methane capture in a dry climate is very different from a landfill created by clearing rainforest. Another reason we don’t hold strong beliefs is that everything has a cost. These costs can be very different depending on the type of waste and the location where it is produced. Recycling something in one part of the world can produce more emissions and environmental pollution than incinerating it at a waste-to-energy facility in another part of the world. Thermal decomposition of plastic waste can produce fuel that is less polluting than what is currently used in the region. That is why we don’t advocate for recycling, landfilling or incineration. We advocate for taking the time to estimate the costs of different solutions (in terms of impact on the environment, climate, human and animal health), to assess their financial feasibility and to compare the opportunity cost. In-depth research guides everything we do. We invite you to explore what we’ve learnt so far. If you spot any mistakes, please do get in touch, it will be much appreciated.
Best is the enemy of better
Our goals are to reduce the environmental pollution and climate impact associated with waste, and to minimise the impact of waste on human and animal health. Efforts aimed at improving waste management in the long run, for example developing new materials or trying to redesign the global economy, are incredibly valuable. We believe that in parallel to these efforts an urgent action is required to minimise the amount of environmental pollution, climate impact and detrimental effects on human and animal health that happen today. For each waste management challenge we tackle, we try to come up with as many ideas as possible about how it could be addressed. We evaluate each of these ideas based on what impact they will have on the environment, climate and health of living beings if implemented. We compare these externalities with the current ones and decide on an action plan that will result in an improvement. Some of the solutions we implement are far from perfect when examined in isolation, it only becomes apparent how they minimise degradation of the environment, climate and health when they are examined in the context of current reality.
No blame culture
Concerns about waste management challenges often result in blaming companies, consumers or governments. This leads to a counterproductive divide between “us” and “them”. The truth is, nobody wants to live surrounded by waste. Everyone enjoys breathtaking views of the nature and funny marine creatures. We are all “us”, there are no “them”. That is why at Samudra we work towards collaborative solutions that allow everyone to contribute towards a better outcome for all of us. We believe that more can be achieved in a no blame culture where everyone’s contribution is truly appreciated instead of being expected. If you have time, skills or funding that you could contribute, please do get in touch.
Less waste is always better
At Samudra we are dedicated to solving waste management challenges and we mean it. We love high quality products that are happily used for many years after purchase. There will be no t-shirts with our logo, no reusable water bottle giveaways (you probably already have one) and no fund raising by selling branded merchandise made from recycled materials. We are committed to not produce anything that will soon become waste.
Plastic pollution has a detrimental effect on tourism, fishing and shipping industries. Reducing the amount of pollution entering our oceans will provide direct economic benefits for local communities that depend on these industries.
Marine plastic pollution puts rich nutrition sources (fish, seafood and algae) at risk, and leads to food chain contamination. Reducing the amount of pollution entering our oceans will secure safe nutrition sources for the future.
Uncollected waste is either openly burnt (leading to adverse effects on air quality) or dumped (facilitating the spread of disease vectors and contagious diseases). Improving the coverage of waste collection services will lead to better physical and mental health, and reduce the prevalence of contagious diseases.
Women are responsible for waste management in most households and are hence more exposed to the harmful substances released during open burning of waste. Due to a higher proportion of body fat compared to men, they are also more likely to accumulate these harmful substances in larger quantities. Improving the coverage of waste collection services will reduce this inequality.
Leachate from uncollected waste and toxic emissions created during open burning of waste pollute sources of drinking water (both water-bodies and ground waters). Improving the coverage of waste collection services will ensure that more people have access to safe drinking water and that agricultural produce is not contaminated through water.
Even waste that is neither recyclable nor compostable has calorific value. Non-recyclable plastic can be turned into fuel through pyrolysis. Using waste as an energy resource will facilitate the shift away from more polluting fuels and produce affordable energy while reducing the environmental pollution at the same time.
Millions of people make a living by participating in the informal waste management sector. Most of them work without protective equipment, have no access to healthcare and occasionally face hunger due to irregular income. Our vision is to make the current waste pickers the last generation of waste pickers by creating opportunities for them and their children.
The supply of raw materials is finite. Capital investment in waste management infrastructure will increase availability of raw (recycled) materials and affordable energy in the form of electricity and heat for local industries.
Income inequality is exacerbated by the availability of waste collection services. Low-income communities live in polluted environments and are exposed to toxic emissions released during open burning of waste. Improving the coverage of waste collection services will reduce this health inequality and facilitate the economic growth of low-income communities.
Uncollected waste results in air pollution from open burning of waste, spread of infectious diseases and floods caused by clogged drainage systems. Improving the coverage of waste collection services will facilitate sustainable development of urban and rural communities.
It is impossible to be a responsible producer or consumer if waste management services are not available. Capital investment in waste management infrastructure will facilitate the shift towards responsible product design and better waste management practices both in industry and in households.
Landfills and dumpsites without methane capture infrastructure and open burning of waste result in considerable climate impact. Capital investment in waste management infrastructure will reduce climate impact associated with waste. Combining energy recovery with carbon capture technology can result in carbon negative waste disposal methods.
Ocean pollution is detrimental to the health of marine ecosystems. It harms all marine species and all species that are part of the food chains they belong to. Reducing the amount of pollution entering our oceans will be an essential part of preventing marine ecosystem collapse.
Leachate from uncollected waste and toxic emissions created during open burning of waste pollute our land. The need for more and more landfills, given the rate at which they fill up, often results in deforestation. Capital investment in waste management infrastructure will reduce environmental contamination and the rate of deforestation, as well as protect biodiversity and fertility of our land.
Concerns about urgent waste management challenges that need to be addressed often result in blaming companies, consumers or governments. This leads to a counterproductive divide between "us" and "them". Creating collaborative solutions will allow everyone to contribute towards a better outcome for all of us. More can be achieved in a no blame culture where everyone’s contribution is truly appreciated instead of being expected.