Honest Ocean: Combating Plastic Waste and Empowering Communities in Indonesia

Interview with Tom Jackson, Founder of Honest Ocean.
June 16, 2023

In the third installment of our series "Initiatives creating value from plastic waste in a global landscape," Paris Dufrayer and Flavia Sales from Finboot caught up with Tom Jackson, the founder of Honest Ocean. The conversation delved into the origins of Honest Ocean, its environmental impact, and how the company is working towards achieving its ultimate goal.

Honest Ocean primarily operates in Indonesia, which is the second-worst country after China for waste flow into the ocean. They have also expanded into Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam and plan to enter the Philippines within the next three years. Tom Jackson, the founder of Honest Ocean, explains their approach to tackling plastic pollution in these regions.

The Birth of Honest Ocean

Tom Jackson was once a part of the private and commercial yacht industry, traveling around the world from 2011 to 2018. During that time, he witnessed the alarming increase in plastic waste in the ocean. A sighting of a massive plastic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean became the turning point for Tom, who decided it was time for a change.

He initially started a pharmaceutical business that used plastic, but it did not align with his goals to combat plastic pollution. After discussing this with his suppliers, Tom decided to find a better source of plastic and an eco-friendly option for their customers. This led him to move to Indonesia, the second most affected country by plastic pollution after China, and establish the Honest Ocean.

Since its foundation in 2020, Honest Ocean has operated in Indonesia, empowering local communities to collect, clean, and shred plastic. The company works with numerous partners to create a better future for everyone by recycling ocean-bound plastic and turning it into reusable material for next-generation products.

Building Community Hubs for Plastic Recycling

Honest Ocean focuses on areas with little infrastructure and high unemployment rates. They collaborate with local leaders and respected families to identify ways they can help. One solution they've found effective is creating community hubs where people can bring plastic waste, sort it, and separate it. Honest Ocean then acts as a sales agent, taking the material away from the community and providing an ongoing incentive for residents to participate in the recycling process.

This approach creates a domino effect, with more people getting involved in the separation and recycling of plastics. Tom emphasizes that this kind of community-driven initiative is essential for lasting change.

¨I plan to remain in Southeast Asia until the problem is significantly reduced or completely resolved. The Honest Ocean approach involves working with local communities, brands, and middlemen, such as people who transport materials to recycling sites. They collaborate with off-takers who take plastic from communities and aggregators who sort, shred, and clean the plastic before it reaches recycling plants¨, he explains. 

Honest Ocean works directly with these recycling plants to ensure the plastic meets high standards, despite potential contamination from saltwater, sunlight, and other factors. The plastic is categorized into five different categories of recycled waste, ranging from high-quality, food-grade plastic to low-value plastic with limited recycling potential, such as bin bags. 

This meticulous classification process helps Honest Ocean create a reliable supply chain for companies seeking to adopt circular business models and ensures that local communities receive fair compensation for their efforts.

Challenges in Tackling Plastic Pollution in Southeast Asia

In the interview, Tom Jackson discusses the main challenges facing the industry, particularly in terms of sustainability and supply chain. 

Education and Awareness

According to Jackson, the first major challenge is the education level among local communities. For years, people in these areas have been burning plastic waste on the side of the road or disposing of it in rivers. Introducing a new approach to waste management can be difficult for individuals who have been using these traditional methods for decades. Honest Ocean is working to raise awareness of the consequences of poor waste management systems and how they can lead to severe pollution, as seen in some areas with plastic waste piled up 7 meters deep.

Additionally, the political landscape presents an obstacle, as government positions are often temporary and focused on short-term wins. This makes it challenging to implement long-term solutions to the plastic waste problem.

Leveraging Digital Solutions to Overcome Industry Challenges

Jackson also acknowledges the challenges of dealing with plastics from various sources and the difficulties in tracking the mixing of recycled and new plastics. He highlights the need for developing digital solutions that can help monitor and manage these complexities within the supply chain. Honest Ocean is currently focused on sourcing and tracking the origin of materials, but Jackson sees potential for implementing digital tools to provide transparency throughout the entire manufacturing process.

Addressing the Lack of Waste Collection Infrastructure

In Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Thailand, there is a significant lack of household waste collection services. This absence contributes to the overwhelming amount of plastic waste entering the ocean. Tom mentions the island of Lombok, just east of Bali, where 700 tons of plastic are used every day. Honest Ocean is building the first recycling plant on this island, but the challenge remains immense, as Indonesia consists of 3,000 islands with plastic waste circulating in the ocean. Honest Ocean is working with the government to build 25 recycling plants over the next 10 years, but this requires significant investment and planning. 

Environmental Impact and Progress Towards Company Goals

Honest Ocean addresses the plastic problem by creating micro-businesses and empowering communities. They work on land to prevent plastic from entering the ocean, focusing on coastal areas and river mouths. Tom acknowledges that the issue is vast and requires a scalable business model to make a significant impact.

Although still in the early stages, Honest Ocean has made progress. The company's metrics change monthly, making it challenging to maintain consistency. They currently work with various waste banks and manage to process around 100 to 200 tons of plastic per month. Most of the plastic comes from the coastline, and they refer to it as "ocean stock plastic."

Tom Jackson admits that it is currently difficult to provide specific metrics on the environmental impact of their efforts. However, the company is working on a platform that will enable them to track their progress and measure their success in stopping plastic waste. As Honest Ocean grows and gains more stability in the recycling market, they expect to provide more concrete data on their impact.

Market Diversification: Automotive, Food and Beverage, and Beyond

Honest Ocean is just beginning to enter the automotive world, which requires high-grade plastic for long-lasting products. They also work with the food and beverage industry, although it is not their primary focus due to the prevalence of single-use plastics. However, they acknowledge that it's better for these industries to use recycled plastic rather than new plastic. Fast-moving consumer goods are another major market for Honest Ocean.

The Future: Construction and Collaboration with Major Brands

Tom Jackson expresses a desire to expand into the construction industry but admits they have not yet established the right connections. Despite this, Honest Ocean has already collaborated with major brands like IKEA for packaging solutions and The Body Shop for incorporating recycled plastics into their products. These partnerships demonstrate the company's commitment to working with brands that share their mission of creating a sustainable future.

Expanding to Other Regions Affected by Plastic Pollution

Honest Ocean is also considering expanding into Africa and other regions severely affected by plastic waste. In these areas, the need for infrastructure, waste collection, and plastic recycling is immense. By centralizing locations where people can bring plastic and get paid directly for it, Honest Ocean aims to create incentives for waste collection and recycling, ultimately reducing the amount of plastic pollution entering the oceans.

Recommendations and Final Thoughts for the Industry

For those looking to create a sustainable business, Tom advises focusing on passion, viability, and social impact. He emphasizes the importance of balancing passion with financial incentives to ensure the longevity of the venture. Networking and learning from others in the industry, such as through LinkedIn, can help identify patterns and clarify the path to creating a socially impactful business. He also encourages others to be persistent and research extensively, as the journey towards sustainable businesses is not an easy one. For instance, before launching his business, he spent 2-3 years researching a viable solution to the plastic issue as well as the high unemployment in small communities in Indonesia.


Honest Ocean is a testament to the power of individual action in the face of global challenges. By establishing a scalable business model that empowers communities and addresses plastic pollution, Tom Jackson and his team are making a difference in Indonesia and beyond. Although still in its early stages, Honest Ocean's progress in tackling plastic waste and supporting local communities shows promise and offers hope for a cleaner, more sustainable future.

¨The greatest aspect of our 360 plastic supply chain is its ability to add value to waste plastic, ensuring a stable income for local residents and their families. That's why we're all about that social enterprise—to foster long-term employment opportunities within local communities rather than merely offering a temporary financial boost through donations¨, he concludes.