Hamish Daud on Being A Nature’s Hero with ‘Octopus’

Actor and presenter Hamish Daud shares with Prestige the story behind Octopus and his hope to protect the environment while opening new job opportunities. 

Plastic pollution is among the major threats to the environment today. Ever-expanding consumerism combined with poor waste management and relatively low awareness on environmental matters like this have only compounded the problem. And the impact is clear on concrete, with plastic-clogged rivers and beaches covered in trash – mostly plastic – becomes ever more common. Having grown up around the ocean and being quite an environmentalist, Hamish Daud knows all too well that an effective solution is urgently needed.

For the last two years, Hamish and his team have been working on a solution driven by a love for the environment and a passion to clean up the oceans, the result being Octopus, which offers a smart solution to collecting and managing waste. It modernizes and digitalizes the waste management system, while also providing new job opportunities and empowerment for people. We talked with the actor to learn more about his mission.

Of course, what we would really like to highlight this time around is Octopus. Can you tell us the story or inspiration behind this initiative?

The story behind Octopus is pretty straightforward. Look, I’m a surfer, a diver, and a lot of my work in the entertainment industry – whether for TV or conservation documentaries – is based around the ocean. You could say I grew up by the ocean. I’ve seen the difference in the ocean’s condition over the past 30 years with my own eyes and it’s only natural that I want to keep it clean. Before Octopus, I’ve been part of several projects, including MPA or Marine Protected Area assessments, species protection, and others. But the reality is, I feel like it’s pointless if we don’t handle the marine plastics issue properly. So that’s what I’ve been focusing on for the past two years. I’ve been working nonstop to find a solution that will minimize the amount of waste going into the ocean. And I believe we’ve found it.

What is the meaning behind the name “Octopus”? Is there any particular significance behind the choice of name here?

The name of the operation wasn’t something we actually took seriously at first. But then, about six months in, we found it was too late to change it, since people had become familiar with the name Octopus. I have to admit that I like it. The word “octopus” is directly connected to the ocean, and the animal itself is actually very intelligent. More importantly, the image of an octopus resonates with the many different ways that we approach and manage waste. I just find it funny because a lot of people in Indonesia find it hard to pronounce, even when there are plenty of apps and games that have already taken the name Octopus. It’s just an easy mascot concept to digest as opposed to images of waste and waste collectors.

To give our readers a bit of a baseline, can you help describe how waste management is in Indonesia?

For the last three generations, waste management in our country has been extremely reliant on the informal sector, namely local junkyards and individual trash collectors along with private operators. There is no wide-scale system that has been significantly effective.

What are some of the main problems that exist in our country’s waste management system?

The systems in place can be confusing. For instance, there are often directives or suggestions for people to separate their household waste into different categories, such as organic and non-organic, with plastic waste and discarded carboard often separated into their own sub-categories. But more often than not, all of that waste gets mixed up again when it’s finally collected. That erodes people’s confidence in the system, and people eventually stopped caring. For people who lead hard lives, the last thing they want to think about is waste. There is no clear end-to-end idea in waste management. However, that leaves the door open for organizations like Octopus.

Can you give us an overview of Octopus’ operational model? Basically, how does Octopus’ waste collecting model or ecosystem work and what elements or parties are involved?

Our ecosystem is basically meant to restructure what already exists in the informal sector. Essentially, we have three applications. The first is designed for the customer – households, basically. After they’ve gathered their household waste, people can then use the application to call our collectors, or Pelestari, as we call them. By the way, one of the first things that we decided on was to call our collectors Pelestari or preservers. Hopefully this can empower the idea of working as a trash collector and give it more meaning through Octopus. So, the customer will use the Octopus app to call a Pelestari and tell us the type of waste that they want us to pick up. This ensures that we send out the right personnel with the right equipment.  Our second application are used by the Pelestari to help them navigate to our customers’ homes. It also serves to ensure the safety of our people. After picking up any waste from a customer, the Pelestari will then bring it to a check point or local junkyard, and conclude the transaction with them. The third app is meant for the check points, and allows us to monitor the amount and type of waste that goes in and out. The system as a whole is designed to ensure more control over the items that have entered our ecosystem. Nothing that Octopus handles goes to the landfill. Everything gets recycled.

We’ve also learned Octopus’ ecosystem features AI technology. Can you elaborate a bit on this?

Basically, we’ve implemented artificial intelligence technology throughout our apps and ecosystem. We have a real-time dashboard to monitor items circulating, which we also use to direct Pelestari to the closest check points to drop off what they’ve picked up or guide them to go a customer’s house. This monitoring system also helps us keep them safe. We focus on the safety and welfare of our workers. The Octopus ecosystem as a whole is very accurate, direct, and transparent.

What were some of the most significant challenges that you’ve faced in establishing and running Octopus?

Inspiring behavioural change has been quite challenging. Adding value to post-consumer items and encouraging people to be more responsible has been interesting. A lot of people want to help and be part of the change, but are just unsure about how to get involved. By creating Octopus, we are trying to make it as simple as possible for people to get involved and do the right thing. All you have to do is download the app. It’s free and full of incentives.

All new ideas need time to take root. Instead of throwing their items away, we ask our users to sort through their garbage, separate recyclables, and pass them to us for processing. Of course, we also provide incentives such as vouchers for food, coffee and even to pay for electricity and phone bills! All in order to motivate and add both excitement and responsibility to the lifestyle of our users. Changing behaviour and encouraging our users to adopt this lifestyle, or as we call it #ANewHabit, has been a challenging but very exciting process for us.

How would you describe the impact of the company has had so far?

Octopus has created over 15,000 jobs in the past 12 months. Most members of our ecosystem receive above minimum wage now. We focus on empowerment and creating and impact to helping both lives and the environment. On a more personal note, as I mentioned earlier, with my own connection to the sea, I like the fact that I’m currently doing something that actually helps reduce the amount of waste that goes into our ocean and rivers. So, this is something I’m going to keep working on as I continue to finalize and shape this project. I want to make sure that Octopus can create meaningful change for the lives of people involved in it, for the environment and for our nation as a whole.

Does Octopus have any kind of outreach or training programs about waste management, recycling and related subjects for its stakeholders?

We have training programs for our waste collectors. We teach them to identify various materials, components and so on, so that they can properly categorize the waste that they collect. In the last 18 months, we have trained over 16,000 Pelestaris, who play a major role in accomplishing our goals.

Octopus’ ecosystem is also known for empowering women. Can you elaborate a bit on this side of the company and its programs?

At the moment, about 55-percent of the Pelestaris we’ve recruited are women. We try to create a safe working environment for them as well asa the elderly. We conducted a training session not too long ago in Jakarta, and half of the attendees were female university students. It’s interesting to see how this job has evolved into something that is no longer frowned upon. It’s a real and honest job. Through digitalization, gone are the days where our Pelestari need to rummage through someone else’s trash.

The Octopus ecosystem, for the very first time, facilitates close interaction between households and trash collectors – our Pelestari. This sheds a new light on figures who I think are so important to our society and creates valuable teaching moments for children. My daughter, for example, already knew how to separate the things she throws away since she was only a year old. This is the kind of mindset that needs to be developed at home.

What are Octopus’ biggest goals or targets at the moment? What are the next milestones that you and the company are aiming for?

The next milestone for Octopus is to focus on electronic waste. This will involve changing yet another mindset and set of behaviours. Most people don’t understand what goes into the production of a cell phone or electronic devices in general, and most people are unwilling to let go of old and broken gadgets. Sometimes it’s for sentimental reasons, sometimes it’s the reluctance to throw away something that costs a lot of money. So, again, there are quite a few mindset changes that we have to encourage so that people will start recycling electronic waste. It’s going to be a long journey, but it’s one I’m excited for.

On a more personal note, what’s your biggest hope for Octopus moving forward?

That we can roll into all the major cities in Indonesia. I’m not going to be able to undo the last fifty years of damage, but I really want to make sure that from today onwards, Octopus can play a part in reducing the amount of waste that goes into our natural habitats. I might not be able to fix the damage from my grandfather’s era, but we can definitely provide a service for people – our users, industries and companies – to become more responsible about the waste they generate.

And what are you most proud of with what Octopus has – and will – achieve?

I’m proud of the fact that such a small idea has turned into something bigger than I have ever imagined. I’m proud of the enthusiasm we have received. A lot of people have been waiting for something like Octopus to materialize and I’m glad to see that a lot of people are actually eager to get involved. And I’m not here to sell a product; I’m trying to sell a mindset and support #ANewHabit that will benefit everyone involved in our ecosystem.


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