How our circular venture WashBy is disrupting the laundry industry in Indonesia

The plastic problem within Indonesia’s laundry Industry and WashBy’s solution

If you were to wonder what the main culprits are contributing to Indonesia’s plastic crisis, chances are the laundry industry wouldn’t be among the first things that comes to mind – that is, of course, if you’re not from Indonesia.

Our venture builder Bagas is well aware of the key role the laundry service plays in the day-to-day lives of many Indonesians, including his own: “As an Indonesian, I am very familiar with the laundry industry as it is one of the essential businesses in my everyday life.” In Jakarta alone, millions of people make use of laundry services – with virtually one on every corner. It is estimated, though, that 80,000 tons of single-use plastic packaging is discarded within the laundry industry in Indonesia every year, contributing to an already endless stream of plastic trash leaking into the environment.

As Bagas explains, the majority of these shops – locally known as “kiloan” laundries as they typically charge customers by the kilo – are small family businesses with a day-to-day mindset, and which don’t have the financial means to invest in sustainable solutions. “We have seen a lot of single-use plastics in every aspect of the business. We identified that most used single-use plastics came from packaging and detergent, and so this is where we decided to step in,” Bagas elaborates. He is now taking care of all the activities related to the operations, marketing, and sales of our circular laundry venture WashBy, which enables Indonesians to clean their clothes without the use of single-use plastics.

WashBy is the result of a partnership between a team of design students from TU Delft and the Zero Waste Living Lab. After conducting thorough research into Jakarta’s laundry industry, the team acquired a deep understanding of the local needs of both the customers and owners of laundry stores. By talking with the owners, workers and customers of laundry shops, we learned that convenience and saving time is of utmost importance for customers in Jakarta. With this in mind, we developed a desirable and viable refill model in the form of a detergent dispenser that would cater to these needs, while considerably reducing the use of disposable plastics.

Insights from Bagas about the venture’s pilot phase

Bagas has been involved in the project’s development right from the start and is now overseeing the venture’s pilot in South Tangerang Area, where WashBy is serving 10 laundry shops and two households. As Bagas notes, one of the main reasons why laundry shops use a lot of single-use plastic packaging is simply because they are convenient: “Some laundry stores like to use sachets and some are cost-driven so they turn to large bulk containers instead.” Such bulk packaging, however, is far from convenient for them as they need to pour it into another container so that it is easier to then portion the soap for each wash – this is where they turn to sachets.

WashBy’s refill service not only allows laundry owners to save money by buying their detergent in bulk, but also portions it in a convenient way without relying on disposable plastic sachets. Designed by the TU Delft students, the dispenser comes with a tap, optimised for fast and controlled detergent flow, and a measuring cup, allowing users to portion their detergent use. “It’s not very popular in Indonesia to have such a product, believe me, it’s super rare to find a container that has a ready-to-use tap, as there are not many manufacturers that supply taps for high viscosity liquids, or if there are they are super expensive.” After much scouting, the team found a supplier offering just the right technology at a reasonable price. And the best thing, as Bagas points out, it’s working really well for the laundry stores: “Our customers like our containers! It’s a never before seen, and it is one of our advantages.”

An interesting insight from the ongoing pilot is how important the detergent fragrances are to customers: “It’s very surprising that a lot of people depend on the scent of clothing rather than buying perfumes, as perfumes are expensive.” And even though it’s extremely difficult to cater to these needs individually, Bagas is regularly reaching out to customers to learn more about their preferences. That being said, WashBy’s refill service has been more than welcomed by the stores it has partnered with and is currently in talks with other laundry shops in the region to implement its refill solution.

The impact

Since the pilot kicked off earlier this year, WashBy has sold around 300 litres of product, preventing more than 5,500 single-use sachets from entering the environment. On top of this, due to the fact the laundry stores piloting the product have turned to bulk buying and that the distribution is done strategically per neighbourhood, WashBy also reduced the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with supplying shops with detergent!

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