There’s been a steady increase over the last two or three years in international awareness on the issue of marine litter and plastic waste. The topic is particularly relevant in ASEAN. According to seminal research by Dr Jenna Jambeck published in Science in 2015, approx. 50% of plastic waste in the ocean comes from 5 countries: China (the #1 global contributor at approx. 28%), Indonesia (the #2 global contributor at approx. 10%), the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. These 4 ASEAN countries contribute approx. 25% of global plastic waste leakage in the ocean. Awareness, concern and attention have been ramping up within and across ASEAN, driven by governments, civil society and the private sector.
Insufficient waste infrastructure from national governments and therefore ineffective collection of plastic waste (75% of ocean leakage of plastic from land is due to uncollected waste. 25% is due to ‘leakage’ once plastic has been collected i.e. through dumping or poor landfill management).
Plastics without enough value to warrant collection (plastics like plastic bags and thin film convenience items that have low value cannot generate enough economic returns to sustain a recovery system, and are more likely to leak into the ocean).
Historically a low priority for governments in this region
Lack of development finance funding into waste management (less than 0.3% of development finance institution lending went to waste management in 2012 compared to 8% for water infrastructure)
Lack of waste separation and recycling culture/habit amongst the public
No mandated or enforced separation of waste and home/source
In the absence of proper solid waste management systems, the informal sector (recycling pickers, scavengers, junk shops) is responsible for the vast majority of current collection for recycling in ASEAN, especially for PET and aluminium. This sector faces many challenges such as poor health and safety standards, low job security/stability etc with low and fluctuating material prices. As incomes rise through the emerging middle class, fewer individuals will choose to stay in the informal collection business. So we need to find ways to incentivize them and improve their livelihoods.
PET is a visible contributor to the problem of ocean plastic but not as big a contributing factor as some would suggest since this type of plastic has a higher economic value and therefore enjoys higher recovery rates than other lower-value plastics (e.g. plastic bags, film). Overall PET packaging contributes less than 20% of the issue due to comparatively higher value - waste pickers can earn income from them. (Source: “Stemming The Tide”, a report by The Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, 2015). Average PET collection for recycling rates in ASEAN are around 20-30% driven by the informal sector/scavengers. In some urban cities such as Jakarta and Yangon, these rates can go up to around 70%.
Finding ways to incentivise collection and support the informal sector is therefore key to boosting plastic recycling rates in Southeast Asia. We hope that through driving a circular economy for plastics we can stem the tide of land-based pollution into the oceans.
How might we create a locally viable model and digital platform to incentivise and empower the informal sector and help to link this sector with local recyclers and consumers? How might we do this in a scalable way that would drive up packaging collection rates in key ASEAN “leaking” markets i.e. Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and leverage digital technology?
What We Are Looking For
New ideas and ways to use digital technology to incentivise the informal sector and link this sector with local recyclers and consumers to drive up collection rates in key ASEAN “leaking” markets. This can be any of the key countries e.g. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia. You can start in a small(er) geography e.g. city level and test from there.
We are looking to get a prototype in place that can help to drive measurable growth of collection and recycling of PET and other plastics and thereby reduce leakage into rivers and oceans.
We expect that this would support and build on existing collection as well as promote new collection opportunities and recycling infrastructure, helping to drive a closed-loop process for recycling.
We also expect that this would create meaningful social and economic impact, improving the livelihoods of informal collectors.
We’re looking for an innovative solution that would ultimately be of interest for private capital/development finance institutions.
Possible Use Case
We see opportunities to use digital technology (mobile, blockchain) to advance new systems, for example
Enhancing waste collection schedules in tandem with the informal sector leading to improved ties with aggregators and recycling factories, better tracking/verification of results and improved efficiencies in waste management and collection
Creating an UBER-like model using mobile technology that allows and incentivises consumers to know where and how to drop off recyclables and ensures that there is ‘back-end’ pick-up and sorting of these recyclables through the informal sector
Creating an end market for recyclables that can either re-enter FMCG supply chains as recycled content or be repurposed into other valuable items e.g. T-shirts, apparel
What's In It For You
SGD 10,000 of prize money for POC/prototype development
We will also connect the winning prototype to Circulate Capital, a new Southeast-Asia focused financing mechanism to divert plastic waste from the environment