Interview #2: environmental idealist Sabrina Viitasaari

I met Sabrina in December at at café next to Green School Bali. At that point (before the coronavirus took over all conversational topics) we were still occupied with environmental issues and eager to engage in discussions on waste management and how to limit pollution in developing countries. We quickly got occupied with a discussion on green washing and sustainable living – and I was fascinated to hear about her company Nusa Sentara. Nusa Sentara is focused on bringing state of the art technology in the “waste to energy” sector to Indonesian communities that are suffering from waste management crisis as well as lacking clean and reliable energy sources to power their communities.

Sabrina founded and runs Nusa Sentara together with her brother and sister. Her brother Solomon Viitasaari is a marine biologist and a leading specialist in marine eco-system restoration methods, and has 15 years of experience with sustainable projects and research in Indonesia, especially relating to bio-technical solutions, marine eco systems regeneration, and renewable energy. Her sister Natasha Viitasaari holds a Master’s degrees in both Political Science and Public International Law from the University of Helsinki, and has always been motivated by possibilities of change through social analysis and grass roots adaptation. Sabrina herself has over 10 years experience with start-ups and network development as well as circular economy. The company is located in the Indonesian island Lombok.

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In this interview, Sabrina sheds light on her work, her company’s approach to sustainability, and discusses the biggest environmental problem we are currently facing.

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What does sustainability mean to you?

Well, thats a tricky one since i’ve been following, observing and using that term for about 15 years now — and what it meant when I started working with it and what it means now seems quite different. But in short, I guess what sustainability means to me now is: Not Enough. Why do I say that? Well, because frankly we’ve gone past the point of “sustainable”; we cannot sustain the systems and the models that we currently have. We must move beyond those to other terms like regenerative and restorative and use these as guidelines when pursuing a cleaner environment and healthier society.

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How would you describe your company’s mission?

Our mission is to help solve the global pollution catastrophe we are currently facing.  We do this by ideating, designing, building and connecting waste to value eco-systems, which in practice means that the intelligence of our systems ensures that new materials and products produced are the ones which best serve the members of the localised ecosystem.
Our way of supporting the foundations of a true waste to value model goes like this: Use global technology to design a system which collects waste locally, processes it locally, converts into a new product to serve the local community.

Nusa Sentara is currently involved in several innovative environmental projects across the Indonesian archipelago. The projects include working with individual companies on identifying their side streams and helping turn them into lucrative revenue streams. For example our current project in southern Lombok will use the bio waste from the local fisheries’ production to generate high quality fish feed through a simple method of Black Soldier Fly production. This project doesn’t only deal with the difficulty of removing waste streams, but also provides the necessary protein and fat sources to make a high quality organic fish feed for sustainable aqua-culture.

Another project, which we are currently developing is the integration of small scale waste to energy facilities (pyrolysis system which can turn non recyclable plastics into a renewable fuel). This model doesn’t only provides the market with a cleaner diesel fuel, it also injects (potentially large amounts of) money into the local community through plastic buy-back models, which simultaneously gives an economic incentive for the collection and transformation of plastic waste on beaches and in oceans. Such a solution is currently lacking across most Indonesian islands.

Plastic Waste washed up at shore, Turneffe Atoll, Caribbean, Belize

Nusa Sentara holds the ambitious goal to make this model mobile by mounting the system on a oceanic vessel, which can travel the archipelago reaching even extremely remote places. The goal is to provide remote, isolated islands with a waste management  technology that they would otherwise never have accessibility to. Because, despite being isolated, due to currents and tides masses of ocean plastic waste reach their remote beaches and harbours.

Nusa Sentara believes this model isn’t just suitable for Indonesia but all places in the world which are lacking proper waste management infrastructure. For this reason we are using sophisticated data analytics and machine learning software to use the data collected here to build the foundation for a model that can be scaled up or down and used anywhere in the world.

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What do you view as the biggest environmental problem?

I don’t see environmental problems, I see human problems. In nature there is no such thing as waste, it is something that our socio-economic models have created. Waste is not a material, it’s a mindset. 

For the past few years our company Nusa Sentara has been a forerunner in developing waste to value eco-systems. In the beginning it was pretty tough because the general public (and most governments) didn’t really seem to think that we had a waste crisis. But then, I guess it was in early 2018 when China announced that they would no longer be accepting the world’s waste the house of cards which we called “recycling” began to topple. And so, now we are faced with the terrifying realisation that for the vast majority recycling has been only theory not practice, and we are drowning in our refuse. 

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So, now that we have this major demand for solutions from companies, communities and entire industries, who don’t know how to address their problems. We are looking to automate and scale some of the processes and models we’ve developed over the past couple of years into a new platform called Nu Cycle. We are currently testing it with our pilot partners and early customers but will be launching it publicly summer 2020.
In short Nu Cycle will be the first framework & platform for automating the offset and conversion of a company’s or community’s waste impact by creating local waste-to-value ecosystems and data driven incentive schemes.

 

2 thoughts on “Interview #2: environmental idealist Sabrina Viitasaari

  1. Great article. Fascinating woman!

    I love this quote :
    “ I don’t see environmental problems, I see human problems. In nature there is no such thing as waste, it is something that our socio-economic models have created. Waste is not a material, it’s a mindset. ”

    I totally totally agree. It is a human problem. And a mind-set.

    And when she links sustainability to the words “no enough”, she is spot on! Bravo! Totally agree.

    Not enough, because we need more to fill the void inside ourselves, I would add.
    Our souls, as a collective community, is empty; hence we frantically consume to fill the emptiness inside us. Because emptiness is scary….

    Keep up writing Kristine. I love reading you.

    Bisous from Lanta Island.

    Like

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