Humble founders Josef Werker and Niña Opida with green lifestyle advocate Angel Mata of Low Impact Filipina blog. Photo courtesy of Josef Werker

This local startup will gladly collect your personal junk—for free

“The center of our dream is to make sustainable living the new normal,” says founder Josef Werker.
RHIA GRANA | Feb 03 2021

We’re confronted by our own clutter like never before—old gadgets and appliances, half-read books, random magazines, excess furniture that leave us little room to move around. We see them everyday and they remind us of our bad decisions, our laziness to finish what we started, our excessive ways. 

Well, if you’re tired of your clutter and it’s negative vibes, just dispose of them—but dispose of them like a better person. If you’re thinking of disposing these ‘extras’, consider giving them a new life. A group who calls themselves Humble could collect your discarded stuff and “bring them back into circularity”—meaning, find ways to reuse, recycle, and upcycle them to extend their life.

Humble is actually one of the three winners in the recently concluded acceleration program of IdeaSpace, a non-profit organization that supports early-stage technology entrepreneurship in the Philippines. The sustainability and circular living startup, which was founded by Josef Werker and Niña Opida, won a one million peso investment in the said tilt.

Josef is half Dutch and half Welsh. He’s dabbled on a lot of things—music, sports, and later on, business development. He says he stumbled upon the Philippines in 2012 while working on a documentary about the country’s “rising economy.” 

“I fell madly in love with the Filipino values, culture, sense of humor, and decided to make the Philippines my permanent home,” says Josef. Niña, on the other hand, was into real estate for a few years, before she decided to pursue her passion for design via Humble.

Their drivers in action. Photo from Humble's Facebook page

Circular living

“Circular economy is quite well-known,” Josef tells me. “It’s basically finding ways to extend the life of materials and products in order to create further value for them and reduce environmental waste. Circular living is how people like us can embrace this kind of lifestyle in our day-to-day lives.”

They’re not environmental experts or activists, Josef clarifies. But like most of us, they would like to do something for the environment and for other people in their own little way. “When I met Niña three and a half years ago, we knew we wanted to create something meaningful and with a genuine impact, but we didn’t know where to start,” he admits.

Niña grew up with a special fondness for second-hand stuff—her mother buys segunda mano—so her initial foray into circular startup was reusing, recycling, and upcycling children’s clothes. “Then we began to think bigger. What about every single item that people no longer use, not just kids’ clothes,” he recalls. And that was how Humble was born.

Through their startup, Josef and Niña want to show people it doesn’t always take large gestures in order to make a difference. “They can take simple steps such as unplugging their cell phone at night or going meat-free for a few days, which could lead them to embracing zero waste or growing their own food later on. If we can inspire people to think that way, to live sustainably, we can give our planet a bright future,” Josef says.

Sample design concepts of Bea Samson and Anina Rubio for Humble

How to book them

Since Humble had a soft launch in 2020, it’s already served about 550 houses and collected over 90,000 items from people’s homes and offices. These are clothes, electronic items (in any kind of condition), furniture, textbooks, magazines, broken phones, modems, wires, figurine, pet stuff etc.

Those interested to unload their personal junk simply need to fill out the booking form on the website, and the Humble guys will arrange a collection schedule of your donations using their truck, for free. These items will be sorted out in a warehouse. Either Humble donates the items straight to charities—like books and toys—or engage in collaborations with their design and recycling partners on how to reuse, recycle and upcycle your discarded stuff. 

At the moment, their operation is on hold as they prepare for their public launch during the second quarter of the year. Later on, more features of the app will be launched. Like when people declutter their homes or offices, they’ll get to earn points, which they can use to purchase second-hand or upcycled items from Humble, claim various rewards or cash, or choose to donate those points to charity.

They already got the support of design partners like visual artist, sculptor and designer Jinggoy Buensuceso, visual artist and sustainability advocate Anina Rubio, artist Leeroy New, fashion designer Bea Samson, and shoe designer Maco Custodio.

These designers will create concepts and drawings for Humble, which will be partnering with local communities to bring those designs to life. “Our goal is to empower communities—say, the weavers of Davao, the carpenters of Laguna—to showcase different elements of craftsmanship throughout the country,” says Josef. Communities need to be empowered, since many have been affected by the Covid pandemic.

An Instagram post of a Humble client. Photo courtesy of Josef Werker

Niña showed Anina Rubio’s design of the Pahinga Bench, a two-in-one seater bench made from old clothes and repurposed wood. Then there’s Bea Samson’s Hope line, comprised of jackets, dresses and tote bags. “Through these designs, we’ll be able to showcase the creativity of Filipino design and address our environmental problem in a very unique way,” says Josef.

Ultimately, what they hope to do, says Josef, is to build an ecosystem to connect the recyclers, the designers, and the communities together, empower them, and bring them online. “The center of our dream is to make sustainable living the new normal. We’re calling out to the public to join the Humble movement, and take a step towards circular living.”