35. Thinking Big with Anssi from River Recycle

River cleaning and waste disposal.

And the reaction was if if you get the waste up from the river, then it's the problem of the land owner. As long as it's in the river, it's nobody's problem and nobody's responsible for it.   

Pristine Ocean 

What happens when an entrepreneur with a background in shipbuilding, watches a documentary about rivers transporting trash into theocean and then goes to bed?  

Well, nothing, actually. Certainly not sleep. Opportunities, problems, solutions swirl around in the entrepreneur's brain until finally sleep comes. In the morning, the world is different. In thecase of Ansii Mikola from the company RiverRecycle, that entrepreneur woke up with a mission to rid the world of plastic pollution.   

The price tag: a mere $2.5 billion.That seems a lot, but compared to the planned investment in new plastic infrastructure, a drop in the bucket. I talked to Ansii about when he started, where they are now and what plans he has for the future.   

Ansii, I know that you're very busy.Thank you very much for taking the time to talk, to talk to us today about tackling plastic pollution. 

Thank you for having me. 

I understand thatyou, your service cleans up rivers from plastic pollution, frees them and deals with the plastic at the end.   

And there are a number of ideas and techniques and technologies involved there. But just putting that to this asidefor the minute, let's get back to your origin story. What was the moment whenyou thought I'm going to work on this?   

It was the first of June 2018 to 30 inthe morning. I have a symptom of a disease called the bubbling mind syndrome.

Sorry to hear that. 

It means that every time my brain has a little free time, it automatically starts solving the last problem.   

I had just gone to bed looking at the ten rivers who are producing most of the pollution goinginto the oceans. And then I woke up and I'd come up with a solution of a rivercleaner that takes the power from the river and the solar and cleans up rivers.   

And I figured, great, let's just go and clean all the rivers and there will no plastic. 

Perfect. Problem solved. 

OK, winding back a little bit further. You must have abackground. Are you a technologist?   

I'm a ship building engineer by education and serial entrepreneur by profession. This is my fifth company putting those together, watching that documentary. It was almost inevitable.Yeah, yeah. I want to say so. Yeah, it's a natural career development.   

Jumping through from selling construction materials from Finland to Turkish contractors, working in ex-SovietUnion through a health care process, efficiency and founding a dental clinic.The natural next step for shipbuilder is to start cleaning the rivers. 

Finland, Europe, you're based in Finland.   

Yeah

Finland I associate withtelecoms and with technology. I don't really associate, you know, plastic waste. It doesn't really come to mind when I think of Finland. 

Finland is a strangeplace. We're pretty poor on natural resources, so the only thing we have is education and innovation.   

So we've been one of the most innovative countries in the world for many decades, which runs us to a situation where we're a country of thousands of wonderful solutions desperately looking for a problem. 

OK, lots of lots of hammers looking for nails.   

Yeah, exactly. Lots of hammers looking for nails. And this one looked like a real problem. 

So you had this idea. Whathappened then? 

Then I called the countries who have plastic problems such as Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, so on, and asked if they would like to have a river cleaner.   

Well, let's just dig down a little bit deeper into that statement. You call the country. How do you call a country?

You call the Finnish Embassy commercial counselor and ask, who's responsiblefor cleaning up rivers? And then they connect you and then you get to present.   

Of course, at that point, I had to travel over. That was before COVID, so I visited those countries. And the general reply was, we don't want a river cleaner. We don't want to give them afree. 

You were mentioning the earlier had experience in international projects.   

I've been doing all kinds of international projects for my life. Soit's it's my natural environment. 

Okay. So you, you said that you you contacted you gave presentations in Indonesia and in another country.   

And the reaction was if if you get the waste up from the river, then it's the problem of the land owner. As long as it's in the river, it's nobody's problem and nobody's responsible for it.   

So let it remain there because if you do come and clean the river and lift it up, then what are we going to do with it? The problem is just shifted somewhere else. Yeah, we just the massive amount of waste by the river.   

So what can you do? You have to take itto a landfill that's going to cost you money. So please go away. Was so it wasn't a shipbuilding problem, it was some other kind of problem. It's a socioeconomic problem.   

We call it the Eatocracy. Everybodygets to say no. Nobody gets to say yes. OK, so sounds like end of the road foryou. Yeah, it's just that. Then I had a few few new bubbles as the bubblingmind syndrome works.   

And now we've come up with a solutioncalled a river cleaning as a free service where we come into a community. Wesuggest to clean the river. And what we take in return. Is there non-recyclableplastic problem? No money exchanged.   

OK, but you still have all those thoseexisting problems? Not so much anymore lately. As long as one can promise thatwe do the Clair River cleaning for free and we take care of the waste thatwe've collected and actually we take care of more low value plastic waste, thenwe end up taking to the landfill because   

when we collect the waste from theriver, we get plastics, we get other waste, the other waste we currently don'thave a solution for, so we end up taking that to the landfill. There are plansto do something about that, but they're not reality yet.   

So the landfill then looks at us andis, OK, you're going to bring in ten tonnes of waste. But we're also going totake out 20 tonnes of non-recyclable plastics because we will finalize those atour plant and turn it into oil, which then is fed back to the plasticsindustry.   

And that way we become a landfill volumenegative solution, we take out more than we bring in. OK, so the rivers in yourriver recycle the Rivers River Plate is a free service. It comes in threeparts. Number one, we clean the river.   

Number two, we bring in tech toincrease the value of the low value of plastics. And then number three, westart establishing land based segregating collection along the river. Becausethen we're able to pay for the low value plastics that are then broughtdirectly to our recycling plant and hopefully in 50 years, that will be so efficient   

that there will be no more plastic inthe rivers. OK, let's let's keep with those three steps. So the collection ispossibly your first idea with the Solar-Powered River barge that would gobbleup floating plastic. Tell us about that.   

As such, it's patented, but it's quitesimple. Just basically swipe the surface of the river, collect all the floatingwaste to the side of the river. Use solar power and conveyor belts to lift itup. And that runs is on its own.   

Quite efficient. Very low energy and noexternal energy. So that one works. Then you do the sorting and the low valuesyou paralyzed. And that's basically as such, it's a self-sufficient rivercleaning system requiring no funding from the local government.   

It sounds like you say it's a simpleoperation, but it sounds fairly complex. That may be that's part of, I suppose,my brain. The more moving parts, the more interesting. So, yeah, taking it out,sorting it, paralyzing it, shipping it to back to bedrock chemical industry,having it turned to sneakers and b the bottles.   

Yeah, there's there's quite a fewmoving parts to it. And when you're at the land based collection, there's evenmore moving parts to it. But I mean, from the surface sort of high level, it'sstill quite simple and all we need to do is install in excess of 500 of theseriver cleaning units and recycling units, and   

we will have eradicated 75% of riverplastics. And all we do point. Yeah. All we need is €2.5 billion and 75%, theproblem is done. What what is the optimal thing? This is not going to work on asmall community of ten houses.   

No, no. This is more than two large,larger cities, let's say, at least 300,000, preferably 1,000,000 people. Butthen, on the other hand, we can also install a small sized biros on thevillages or smaller towns along the river and then just transport the oil fromthere to this larger unit that's residing at the larger town.   

Yeah, this sounds really fascinatingfor for a lot of scenarios, especially islands and things like that. But Imean, how are you going to make that? How are you going to put up the capitalcosts of the pyrolysis machine?   

How are you going to get to the oil, tothe to the industry? Those are details that need to be figure it out. We wehave our offtake agreements ready. So it's there's several steps to it. Youstart with something a little little smaller, but then at the end of the day,you're looking at getting the sort   

of tanker ship size of shipments to beable to know the materials to the most suitable cracker. Can you say what acracker is? A cracker is the the petrochemical plant that takes polymers andturns them into monomers so that they can be read polymerases.   

So basically you put in naphtha, whichis a large fraction of the oil and outcome's plastic. What are you doingdifferently that other people have not doing? I mean, there's anecdotes aboutpyrolysis not succeeding in certain locations. What are you doing, right?   

Well, I think what we're doing, that'sour kind of unique thing is providing the whole model because that then makesit possible to collect larger amounts of funding. It's where we find it'seasier to get 100 million than it is to get 1,000,000.   

You can spread the risk, the holisticmodel that's right, sized for the problem. I think that's our kind of uniquepart. Having worked with so many industries where you do need to put togethervery long value chains, and our team has as background from development banksfrom petrochemical industry, I'm a serial entrepreneur.   

We have partners. I mean, team memberswho have been doing international construction projects for a long time andtheir complex project, and we're kind of used to them. I suppose what I'mhearing is that you're you're thinking larger than a lot of projects that youhear about who are starting small learning, find their way into the space   

and you're coming in with a with a witha howitzer. Yeah, yeah, yeah. one group says obviously it needs to be built upfrom from smaller parts. We have five projects currently in five countries thathave been funded, and we're moving on up from there.   

You say that you're a an entrepreneur,so I presume you see this organization as a as a startup, I suppose. Yep. Yep,it's a startup. And how does your startup approach differ from, say, an NGOthat goes in and tries to solve a plastic waste problem at a particularlocation?   

We look at this as largely a fundingissue, and we are able to use low end funding and leverage development bankfunding when we have some equity in the game. So an NGO would need purelydonations as a business, we can loan money and thereby create the bigger volumeof funding.   

I mean, asking for €2.5 billion of donationsis is a heavy piece of donation. But you believe it's possible? Yeah,definitely. Yeah, it's about money. But when you think of it, the plasticsindustry is investing every year in excess of $50 billion for new productioncapacity.   

So two and a half billion over the spanof eight years. I mean, it's a rounding error from from that perspective, it'snot that much for a donation, it's a lot, but for the context of where we are,it's not that much.   

Let's take that point and look at theplastic waste from the perspective of the industry. Say Coca Cola, say you knowhow important in your opinion, does Coca Cola take the problem? I see themtaking it quite seriously and all the other brands as well, and not all theother brands, but most of the brands, the big   

brands certainly are taking itseriously. It's a major PR problem. It's an ESG problem. I think it's beingtaken quite seriously at the moment. But the a lot of the the problems are notreally occurring with with p bottles.   

They seem to be have value and havepretty much sold themselves in in the informal sector. What about, you know,flip flops and and bits of Styrofoam and all that other stuff? I mean, theydon't there's no pressure, there's no industry that sort of feels as thoughthey're getting bad image from them.   

That's true. In our Mumbai operation,we're getting about 20 to 30% B.E.T, which were actually quite surprised aboutbecause earlier we found that there's less needy in the rivers. But that'sexactly the part of the problem we're selling when we are realizing the lowvalues the Styrofoam is and the films and packaging back to oil.   

Then when he goes to a cracker, it canbe turned into any volume. We take in the difficult part of the problem andturning it into a flexible solution. So in seven years, you have audio plantinstalled. But you still have a plastic problem, because you'll need that foryour for your feed.   

I'm afraid in seven years we will stillhave a number of river cleaners in the rivers. Hopefully, in in the very mostoptimistic scenario in 15 years, there would be some of the rivers would startto be clean enough because the land based collection has stopped the flow ofplastic into the rivers.   

But I think in reality, there's maybe50 years or so 50 before where there. So even though at the end of the day, theriver cleaners would be taken out what we call this the destructive businessmodel. So we try to destroy the business of river cleaning as soon as possibleby installing a land based collection so   

that there will be no need for cleaningthe rivers anymore at that point. It's part of the waste management or circulareconomy, which hopefully I mean, plastic will probably be needed in one form oranother to package food so that it doesn't get spoiled.   

But if we can take the plastic and turnit back to plastic, then we no longer need fossil raw materials. We just have arecycled raw materials to a lot of people are saying the ocean clean up. Youknow, there's no point picking up from the ocean, but in a river it's alreadyfairly fairly laid down the   

down the downstream is near to. Whatabout upstream? What about changing the hearts and minds of the people who arethe hearts and minds that I think that's the part of all the progress that wehave. We have a community engagement component.   

But then again, community engagementmeeting, telling people that you shouldn't throw your waste in the river. Aperson, I find it rather futile if you don't give people any other choice. Ifif you don't have a waste bin at all, then what do you expect?   

But here's what to do with their waste.So. Well, we tried to go first with the recycling part so that we couldactually start paying for the low values and concentrate on the communityengagement after that. What is the major constraint now?   

The major constraint is twofold. firstof all, getting the permits and because it took us 13 months to get a permit toclean a river in Indonesia, that's one. And then the funding is the other one.And this is a on an egg kind of a situation if you don't have permits toactually do something awfully hard   

to get funding if you don't havefunding. It's an interesting job getting firms to do something. What do youwant to be in five years? In five years, we should have tens of these aroundthe world and ready funding package so that whenever we do get a permit, we'reable to move right away.   

The first ones are nicely up andrunning and turning money and similar. Thanks very much for talking about riverrecycle, and I wish you all the all the best and all the success with with theproject. And I'm looking forward to seeing those 500 sites in seven years.   

And and and thanks for the reallyoptimistic message that really you. You're thinking big and you're thinkingabout solutions and about pragmatic solutions as well. Thank you for having us.We've been talking to Auntie Nicola from River Recycle, if you want to find outmore about river recycle.   

Check out the show notes. That's it forthis week. Thank you very much for listening to the Pristine Ocean podcast. Wetalk to people about tackling the scourge of marine plastic pollution.   Hi, Sarah, thanks for taking the time to talk today.  

Hi Peter, it's sucha pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me to have a conversation.  

OK, where are you sitting right now?  

I'm sitting in a place which is in the CentralCoast of New South Wales,so it's about kind of an hour and20 minutes north of Sydney.  

OK,and what can you see when you look out the window?  

Well, it's night time here so.  

Not much, it's dark,but if it was daytime.  

Uhm,but I'd most importantly be able to hear the ocean.  

So I'm about a5 minute walk from the ocean, so it's more what I can hear that's important rather than what I see.  

 

OK, are you,do you go in the water everyday or regularly?  

Absolutely do,so I'm a. I'm a very keen ocean swimmer,so I swim just about every day unless.  

It's huge swells.  

Through summer through winter I swim every morning with a group of other ocean swimmers about kind of almost.  

Kilometre offshore from the beach.  

Well,so you're on the beach every day. 

Yep, I'm absolutely an ocean woman.Always have been even.  

As a little girl I grew up in the FijiIslands, so I couldn't imagine living anywhere else.I have to be up on the coast on the beach,in the water.  

Fantasticuh, sort of related issue is what's going onin in Glasgow at the moment. The COPjust watching the speech from David Attenborough.  

You know the speech?   

I haven't seen the full speech,butI did read the headlines of what he said. I'm alsoan absolute Attenborough fan.  

A lot of what I talk about is is learnings from him about where we are and the loss of biodiversity and the criticalplace where we're at soI haven't seen his full speech,but I'm following what's going on there. I'm very interested in conservation as much as a broad concept and the environment as a broad concept.  

They're my greatest values,but particular focus on ocean conservation.And of course, the the effect that climate change is having our oceans.  

How do you feel when you hear Attenborough speak?  

Look, you know the great thing about DavidAttenborough is that he isn't just incredibly knowledgeable.  

I love the way that he presents the situation ina very well informed 

incredibly emotional way, andI think that's what we need to do, and  

he's an Englishman.  

He's quite calm in the way that he presents,but you can tell underneath that is very stirring emotions about what they're taking place and and he is, uhm, you know it. It's loaded with the anxiety of what we're facing.I think he's got people listening all the way around around the role because he's anexpert.  

I've got a couple of his books here right by me on the shelf is that he always does.    

I love that, that hope and and action and that takes us to your organisation. Take 3 for the sea. That is an action orientated title. What does take 3 for the sea do?  

So take three for the sea has a really simple message and that is if everybody takes 3 pieces of rubbish when they leave the beach or waterway, or anywhere that we're making adifference. 

And it sounds pretty simple andall a bit too good to be true and it is simple,but the strength of take 3 is a simplicity of our message. It's  

something that everybody can participate in. It makes it achievable and it's very much like if one. It's the goal about it. One person takes this individual action and shares that story and then they share that story and then they do that action and share that story. It's very much about a multiplier anda ripple effect.  

And take 3 started as an organisation here inAustralia about 12 years ago now very much a grassroots organisation ina in a small coastal community.  

but it's spread that message far and wide,and it's actually now followed in 129countries around the world.  

Because it's a simple message because everybody can engage with it, whether thereare an individual or family or community or corporate or business.  

But it's also very much a conversation starter. It's about us raising awareness about a problem.  

This is what you can do about it,but there's many, many other things that you can do you know,like obviously give up single use plastics andall of the conversations we're having around that.  

That's great, so very simple message when you're onthe beach.    

It's almost like a Boy or GirlScout signalling holding up three fingers.  

So it's very much about it's an everyday action that you can take.  

Take three so there's lots of kind of world cleanup days andclean up Australia days, which are great and really validand important.  

But but our message is about something that you can do every day. You can participate in the solution every day.    

I see that messaging that passion for messaging in your social media which is absolutely fantastic.  

I mean it's it's. It's inspirational the the quality of the materials that you're putting out. How do you? How do youdo it?  

I'm very pleased for you to say that we have, believeit or not, right now we have one person in our social media team.  

We used to have we used to have two and we arerecruiting for a new head of communications.  

But I think the reason I mean it's extraordinary.The output for the fact that we only have one person in the team.  

But the inspiration for that comes from storytelling.  

So my background is a filmmaker. It's all aboutstorytelling, but it also it take 3. We've always told stories and I think it'sa  

huge part ofwhat we do is sharing stories, our stories, other people stories.  

Because I think the visual and emotionalstorytelling is a really incredibly important way to again drive that changeand it's really interesting.     

I’m hearing a lot of passion,a lot of a lot of competence.  

How did it? How did it begin? How did? How did you come to take three for the sea? I understand that you did not found the organisation,but tell us how it all began.  

Sure,so how I came to take three was actually backin around 2013, 2014and my background actually is a filmmaker,a documentary filmmaker anda lot of my films have been around the ocean and and most recently were to do with ocean conservation.If there was one big bee in my bonnet, it's about litter. You know I can't stand litter if you know my whole life.  

If I see litter on the ground or on the beach, I've always picked it up. If somebody thrown it out the car,I must admit I have calmly but forcefully giving it back to them through their car window.  

And I andI saw some sort of film, a short for afilm about the North Pacific albatross,and it sound it was up in Midway Islandand it starts off as this beautiful piece where you see these, you know, soaring giants, the magnificent birds,and then as the as the film goes on, you see their rookery using amazing islands inMidwayand you get closer and you see that you know 100% of the seabird chicks have been impacted by plastic.The images are being seen around the world.  

They were new to me back then. Where you see you know lots of dead birds and they've just pulled plastic.  

It sounds dramatic,but it's true.I actually dropped to the floor and wept.I mean, I'd never seen anything like it, and Iwas so emotionally moved by what I saw.  

Which is what I've tried to do with.  

Ifind that fascinating that you saw these these pictures of these chicks,and then that you said you've you fell to the floor and that made sucha change to your life that you wanted to take action anddo something.  

I had a similar experience.I had also saw a. I think it was this,uh, a French film involving a turtle and A anda plastic straw.  

And this does change your perception,and you sound like the perfect person to give some insights into how to create change.  

Change without you know, shock videos.I mean how, where? What is the fine line and and just talking about it maybe doesn't make that impact,but actually showing graphic images does?    

Absolutely. I ama huge believer. Obviously because of how I've spent so much of my timein visual storytelling.  

I've got to say I could get up and talk to a group of people group of children till I'm blue in the face anddo a speech about what's going onin the world.  

And you know,I can speak I'm, you know I'm not too bad,but that's pretty boring.  

You know a much better way of telling that story is showing the imagery, showing the the visual side of the story and telling the narrative underneath that it's far more effective. You know,a classic example is in the feature film Blue. There'sa scene in sort of in the middle of the film when we're talking aboutplastic pollution.  

With a scientist who's in the film, Doctor JenniferLavers and she's out in an island called Lord HoweIsland, which is off the coast.  

Again you see these incredible birds flying andthen you cut to where the birds liveand the chicks are in the nests and you see a birdthat's that they finda young chick who's not well and they force they they they know that that birds got a stomach full of plastic.So they regurgitate the bird.I mean the amount of plastic that comes out is incredibly confronting and then later in that story we seethem in the laband there's a whole row of poor birds that have died and and Jennifer is investigating the problem and and pulls out this much plastic. It's the equivalent of 250 pieces of plastic she finds in one chicks body.    

Uh, that I feel is the best way to tell stories is to tell an emotionally engaging story so we we didn't do your classic, you know, talking head interviews of a scientist speaking with great respect. You know I'm a absolutely huge supporter of science.  

But we we we chose characters that have dedicated their life to protect in the ocean and we followed them inan observational way.  

And we heard them speak passionately about why they're doing what they're doing.  

And soand we showed we did show some pretty strong images of the shark markets inLombok in    

So take 3 for the sea, means that you're at the beach,you can pick up three pieces of three pieces of litter from the beach with you, which isabout the the smallest act you can do,I think you know it's the Minimal Viable Act, if you like of taking action.Do you see that as a sort of a gateway to to greater things, to to larger things?  

Yeah, absolutely so.  

Takingthose three pieces of litter when you leave the beach, it's very much it is an action,but it's very much,and more importantly,a conversation starter,so it's very much about promoting.  

What you doand why you do it if you choose to take that action sharing your story,but it's alsoa gateway, as you say, to having conversations about how we have to stop litter, getting there in the first place,so litter reduction, waste management,a circular economy turning it offon the tap there is, you know, to tackle this problem.This crisis that we're facing andnot just in our oceans,I mean plastic.  

Sarah, that's it. It's a really inspiring story. What I'm taking with me is, yeah, that taking action is the first step after awareness and then taking greater action willrelease us from this this this cycle of powerlessness and sort of. Ultimately it's about.  

Apositive, optimistic story.A message that will take us forward.  

Yeah, absolutely.And I I think that that for me the the most important takeaway message is that.  

All of us individually have incredible power, you know, even as consumers, we have incredible outpower by the choices that we make to drive, change and.  

Never underestimate your power as anindividual to do good.    

 

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