Globally, waste mismanagement accounts for about 5% of global carbon emission and is a major contributor to plastic pollution, which has caused tremendous damage to the marine environment.
Countries in the Asia Pacific region are among the world’s worst marine polluters. Thailand ranks as the world’s 6th worst offender for dumping plastic into the sea, following China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. Out of the estimated 2 million tons of plastic waste that the country produces every year, about 1 million tons end up in the ocean – mostly bags, straws, and food containers.
The traditional “Take-Make-Waste” economic model is at the core of the country’s waste issues. Fast production and consumption have fostered a ‘throwaway culture’ whereby products are made and discarded as quickly as they are being used. To reduce the amount of waste, the government of Thailand has come up with a 20-year “roadmap on plastic waste management” banning the use of single-use plastic bags, polystyrene food containers, plastic cups, and plastic straws. Meanwhile, it is also promoting a new circular paradigm of ‘Make-Use-Return’ highlighting the concepts of reuse, reduce, and recycle.
However, according to the Stockholm Environment Institute, Thailand faces critical challenges such as slow change in consumer perceptions on the need for sustainable production, lack of skilled labor, cost of purchasing low-carbon equipment and train new talent, and insufficient institutional support for small businesses.
Inadequate waste management is a global challenge with mounting social, environmental, and economic costs. Covid-19 aggravated the waste crisis with a surge of plastic demand in the e-commerce, food services, and healthcare sectors. At the same time, it has also made this crisis more evident and galvanized support around finding solutions and moving towards reducing waste and more circular models.
Female founders are at the forefront of a shift towards more sustainable solutions, launching and building companies based on circular economy business models. Here are a few examples from Southeast Asia:
A female-led startup and digital platform that provides consultancy, data, and analysis on effective waste management. The business educates companies on how to manage waste, as opposed to disposing of waste.
Its mission is to prevent recyclable materials going into landfill, prevent open burnings, and ultimately make circular economy a reality for Thailand by driving behavioral changes including waste sorting, submitting materials for recycling at collection points, and understanding the types of recyclable materials.
GEPP Sa-Ard collaborates with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to implement a better waste management model using data and analytics.
It also works with Biotherm, a French beauty brand, to facilitate consumers to discard skincare bottles that are to be sorted and recycled.
A Bangkok-based startup that aims to reduce food waste by extending the shelf life of fruits and vegetables with its patented “Naturen” — a natural coating made of naturally occurring compound that is invisible, chemical-free, and edible. The technology allows produce to last 5 times longer than its normal shelf life while maintaining its nutritional benefits.
Researched and developed in Thailand, Eden Agritech has been recognized with a string of startup awards including a win from Thaifex, a major regional trade fair guiding emerging trends in the food and beverage industry.
A female-led and innovation-driven tech startup and winner of She Loves Tech 2022 Singapore competition. Krosslinker focuses on energy efficiency through its development of advanced insulation material, or Aerogel, that is more affordable and accessible across mainstream applications.
Aerogel is an ultra-lightweight material with the highest insulation performance of any non-solid material on the planet. But the very long and energy intensive manufacturing process makes it expensive to produce and has so far limited its commercial applications. With its patented platform that integrates advanced chemistry and manufacturing technologies, Krosslinker can develop aerogel 3-10 times faster, 5 times more energy efficient, and with 100% water-based formulations. While existing aerogel technologies can be costly and energy-intensive to manufacture, the Singapore-based startup offers a much cheaper price and more energy efficient production.
Krosslinker aims to bring aerogel to the cold chain market for the first time, replacing Styrofoam that is widely used during shipment. Using its aerogel, the startup said the lighter weight will help reduce the shipping cost to 20% while the product can be reused at least 50 times — a huge environmental and economic incentive for the cold chain players.
Brunei’s plastic waste makes up 29% of nearly 230,000 tons of disposed waste in 2021 and its landfill are projected to have reached maximum capacity by 2030. This imminent threat has prompted two school friends to come up with Tebalik Plastik — a community plastic recycling center.
Its mission is to give post-consumer plastic a second life by transforming plastic waste into raw material that can be used to create other products. Starting from collecting type 2 and type 5 plastics; bottles, bottle caps, containers, coffee lids; the startup processes the material and turns them into flowerpots, gifts, even furniture using the Precious Plastic machines.
Tebalik Plastic aims to create consciousness around the plastic waste problem by engaging with about 110 businesses in Brunei, introducing its “BWAnG” (Business Wait Assessment and Guidelines) as a tool for business to evaluate its impact on the environment.
Vietnam-based startup that makes saying no to single-used plastic cups rewarding, while creating new growth opportunity for independent F&B businesses.
Nopa is a mobile application that incentivizes consumers to reduce their plastic footprint. The app tracks and compiles users’ records on not using plastic cups, and the data can be shared online where the users can be rewarded by like-minded Nopa accounts.
The aim is to build a digital nudge for habits that help reduce plastic footprints and, over time, push a wider public to go along. Meanwhile, the app can help F&B businesses save about 40% on packaging costs and build customer loyalty.