Sungai Watch - Sungai Design

Rivers, once symbols of life, are now filled with the trash and debris of contemporary civilisation. Poor waste management in Bali, and across Indonesia, has seen these channels grotesquely overrun with garbage. Fortunately, Sungai Watch stands out as a ray of hope amidst this pollution wave. The environmental organisation that Gary, Kelly, and Sam Bencheghib founded in 2020 has grown into a formidable army of more than 130 passionate river warriors committed to cleaning up rivers in Indonesia.

In addition to reducing trash pollution, the organisation’s newly launched sister company, Sungai Design, gives previously used materials a second life by creating eco-friendly furniture, creating a new, effective use-case for previously non-recyclable materials.

Sungai Watch is putting in a lot of time and effort to clean up rivers across Bali and other parts of Indonesia. Every day, their crew work around the clock to collect the debris built up behind their trash barriers; by the end of each day, the crew removes an astounding 3,000 kilos of waste, previously headed for the ocean. In 2023, Sungai Watch celebrated its third anniversary with the milestone of 270 floating barriers around Java and Bali. Whilst hugely impressive, the three siblings have big ambitions, with a target of 1,000 barriers installed across Indonesia’s most polluted river.

Over the course of three and a half years, Sungai Watch has collected 2 million kilos of plastic, hitting this number at the beginning of April 2024. The figure is still increasing, as Sungai Watch is extending its work and operational horizons throughout Java, its next goal. Besides, Sungai Watch’s operations spread rapidly this year to new regions, including East Java and North Bali. To note, Sungai Watch has cleaned up 380 rivers and hundreds of kilometres of shoreline with the help of a fantastic crew of river warriors.

3 Sungai Watch Barrier

We’re installing a barrier in every single river in Indonesia, but that’s after three years of understanding what actually goes out there. The next goal for us is an immediate expansion to the capital city, Jakarta, and Bekasi. That’s going to happen before the end of the year (2024),” shares Sungai Watch Co-Founder Gary Bencheghib.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. All this collected waste must be processed. Sungai Watch operates a comprehensive waste management system, sorting garbage into 30 material types at seven processing facilities, and collecting (and publishing) data for public discussion and awareness. After sorting, waste undergoes washing and shredding for recycling or upcycling.

To keep pushing for better single-use plastic packaging and to hold manufacturers and governments accountable, Sungai Watch stepped up its data collection efforts throughout the year. Furthermore, it audited 537,189 pieces of plastic in 2023, doubling its sample size. It has increased community and government partnership investments across all six operational areas to combat upstream pollution and Indonesia’s chronically inadequate waste management infrastructure.

The latest achievement from the organisation is the launch of Sungai Design, a furniture design studio producing stylish furniture made from recycled materials. They debuted their first products in March 2024, called Ombak Lounger Granite Black and Ombak Seater Ocean Blue.

Sungai Watch Sungai Design 2

Sungai Design aims to find new uses for what is predominantly worthless plastic. Using 2,000 repurposed plastic bags, it can create a sleek and contemporary design for its first product, the Ombak chair. The history of each chair is unique. Reusing plastic bags is a great way to help the environment. An extraordinary tale of invention is central to Sungai Design’s products. “Somebody who buys Sungai Design furniture, they’re sitting on a chair that has a story to tell and how it’s made,” says Gary.

The possibility of repurposing waste into a high-value product is shown in Sungai Design. Gary says Sungai Design’s goal is to make a product with the least amount of plastic feasible. In addition to being visually appealing, and showcasing a neo-modern style, the chair’s design conveys a strong message about sustainability. Because every item has a unique product number, it is possible to trace the origin of the recycled materials all the way back to their manufacturer.

The eco-friendly furniture by Sungai Design is selling well. Significant home décor merchants are showing interest, signalling a market movement towards sustainable goods and materials. Its innovative products attempt to get individuals to re-evaluate their consumption patterns and create greener lives.

More importantly, Sungai Watch underlines the importance of rivers to our ecology. “If we can clean our rivers, we are cleaning our oceans and planets. The main message is [that] we have to look back at our rivers and see how we treat them. Rivers are the connection point between life on land and the ocean,” comments Gary.

Sungai Watch’s activities provide a reminder of the significance of individual and communal responsibility. We can all do our part to create a cleaner future by reducing our plastic usage, being more aware of the destinations of our garbage, and demanding accountability from our governments.

Gary believes that if Indonesia wants to become more sustainable, it should begin with its rivers. The pioneering work of Sungai Watch and Sungai Design demonstrates that even the most undesirable forms of garbage may be salvaged and used into something aesthetically appealing and thought-provoking.

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