When looking back at their teen years, many adults can identify moments that helped them decide on a future career path. For Mohamed Bijaksana Junerosano (“Sano”), the key moment arrived at the age of 14, when a TV show came on about the massive waste build-up, as high as a 15-story building, at Southeast Asia’s largest landfill in Jakarta.
Today, Sano is the co-founder and CEO of Waste4Change, a leading platform for government agencies, businesses, and environmentally conscious households in Indonesia seeking to clean up landfills and institute better waste collection and recycling efforts in the archipelago.
In a recent podcast with Lauren Blasco, Head of ESG at AC Ventures, Sano retraced his involvement with environmental activism in Indonesia, including the evolution of Waste4Change since its 2014 establishment.
Since 2017, when the Indonesian government adopted a sweeping initiative to lessen the nation’s reliance on landfills for waste disposal, Waste4Change has grown at a CAGR of 55.1%.
The company also recently raised a fresh funding round of US$5 million co-led by AC Ventures. Due to the target date of 2025 for the completion of the government’s initiative, the startup’s traction is poised to increase in the next few years and beyond.
To offer some color about how Waste4Chage works, in Pulau Merah Banyuwangi, a tourist area known for its sunsets and great surf breaks, Waste4Change has teamed with the Greeneration Foundation and the Coca-Cola Foundation of Indonesia to form EcoRanger. This group of locals operates waste management systems and also educates tourists and locals about environmental issues. Here are some excerpts from the podcast.
How Waste4Change’s CEO discovered his life’s mission
The transcript below has been condensed and edited for focus and clarity
Lauren: How did you first become interested in environmental change?
Sano: I grew up in the small town of Banyuwangi in the eastern part of Java. I am Muslim, and I had been praying to God to help me find my future. When I saw the news about the problem in Jakarta, I suddenly realized that this is the code, the signal. I knew that inside of me I had the interest and energy to be part of the solution.
When searching for programs in waste management in university guidebooks, I came across course studies in environmental engineering. When I went ahead to study the subject in university, I became excited about the possibility of using entrepreneurship as an opportunity for making a larger impact. After graduating, I became even more determined to dedicate myself to solving environmental issues in Indonesia, leveraging my academic background as a starting point.
Lauren: What was the initial focus at Waste4Change?
Sano: At the outset, we focused on two types of community-based implementation programs, aimed at helping municipalities, businesses, and tourist sites initiate their own actions for change. We’ve always focused on the separation of non-organic wastes such as plastics, metal, and glass from organic waste which can be more safely deposited into landfills.
Through our community assistance programs, we provide planning and operational assistance for six months or more to ensure the sustainability of the waste management programs within specified geographic areas.
Through another type of program, which we call community based capacity building, we deliver three-day training activities for local waste organizations. These programs are aimed at empowering solid waste activists, waste banks, government agencies, and academic institutions to help solve waste management issues in their own local areas.
Lauren: What does the future look like for your organization?
Sano: Since 2017, Waste4Change has ventured into many new areas of research, industry partnerships, and program delivery. For example, we’re now collaborating with the World Bank, doing research on behavioral change, and even delivering high-protein feed for pets and farm animals. Our top priority, though, is to help the Indonesian government meet its goals for waste management.
The right regulations are now in place in Indonesia, and people are willing to change. Still, though, much progress needs to be made
Indonesia generates 175,000 tons of waste per day, and 8,000 tons of that happens every day in Jakarta. From the amount of trash produced every day in Jakarta alone, we could build a Candi Borobudur. This is an emergency.
Note: For those less familiar with Indonesia, Candi Borobudur is a massive Buddhist temple on a hill. It is one of the top tourist attractions in the nation.
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