The young change makers tackling Indonesia’s plastic pollution

By Liam Taylor 15 September 2023

Organisation has collected over 1.3 million kilograms of trash through organising clean-up operations on some of the country’s most polluted rivers.

Sungai Watch was founded in 2020 in Bali, Indonesia by three siblings who were tired of seeing the island’s beaches covered in plastic trash. Sam, Gary and Kelly Benchegjib, who had grown up on the island, set about tackling that plastic upstream in the rivers where it was originating from.

The group began by organising clean-ups at waterways around the island and installing dedicated trash barriers that would collect trash and prevent it from reaching the ocean. The organisation found that up to 2,000 kilograms of plastic and other waste could be making its way down river and into the ocean from just a single village.

Proper management of plastic waste is lacking in coastal communities in Indonesia, which was named by as the second largest contributor to plastic pollution globally. This prompted the Indonesian national government to pledge USD $1 billion a year towards curbing 70 per cent of its marine plastic waste contribution by 2025.

“I grew up in Indonesia and saw that plastic pollution was getting worse and worse throughout the years,” Sam Benchegjib told Mongabay.

“I think that’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur and fighting an issue like plastic pollution, where new challenges and variables are always presented to you. This has been a true-life school for us.”

Sungai Watch has successfully cleaned several of Indonesia’s most polluted rivers and revitalised mangrove ecosystems that degraded by plastic pollution. The trash barriers installed in rivers also allow the group to audit the types of trash that are being dumped most frequently and demand action from the organisations that are creating the most frequently littered products.

Despite a variety of challenges faced during their three years of operation, Sungai Watch have now successfully removed over 1.3 million kilograms of plastic from Indonesia’s rivers, installed 180 trash barriers throughout Indonesia’s most polluted rivers, and have grown from a team of three siblings to 100 full-time staff.

“Some of our success stories include seeing fish populations return to what were once extremely polluted waterways, reviving mangrove forests after removing layers and layers of plastic, which were suffocating mangrove trees,” Benchegjib says.

However it’s not just about removing plastic from rivers, but also about keeping it out from the start.

Working upstream with local communities to provide education about responsible waste management, encourage source separation of trash at the household level and implement waste collection services is another important component of the group’s work. As a result, they have been able to remove barriers from certain and install them at other locations as there was no longer enough plastic pollution and other debris to warrant keeping them there.

They also sort, wash and shred all the plastic pollution collected to prepare it for recycling, either through existing programs in Indonesia or by experimenting with turning the trash into new products themselves. Recently the group upcycled 35,000 plastic bags into a tiny home for one of the siblings to live in.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.

Liam Taylor
Prior to joining Planet Ark Liam spent his time studying global environmental issues, travelling Southeast Asia on the cheap and working for a sustainable property management company in Bali, Indonesia. Joining the communications team at Planet Ark, he hopes to inspire positive environmental behaviour through effective and positive messaging.