SINGAPORE: From straws to snack bins, plastic bags to personal protective equipment, the amount of plastic used every year is growing.
Despite a global push towards recycling and reducing single-use plastics, a large part of it ends up as waste in the world’s oceans.
Around 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year. That corresponds to more than 15 garbage bags on every meter of coast in the world.
“We can immediately see the impact this is having on marine life. However, what we currently do not know exactly is the extent of the impact on human health, “said materials expert Yvonne Lin from WWF Singapore.
“The plastic in the ocean breaks down into microplastics, and these could then get into the food chain when people eat seafood,” she added.
According to a 2015 report by Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey, 60 percent of all plastic waste in the ocean comes from five Asian countries – China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.
While Singapore doesn’t add much to plastic pollution in the ocean, experts say we still have a role to play in cleaning up.
“Anyone who went to East Coast Park that morning would have seen the amount of plastic waste washing up on land. So it really shows that this is a cross-border problem, “Ms. Lin said.
“It doesn’t matter where the plastic comes from, whether it comes from Singapore or any other country. Solving the plastic waste problem requires coordinated global efforts and shared responsibility in a collective approach.”
The materials expert said Singapore is well positioned to take the lead in this area.
The incubation network was founded in Singapore in 2019 with precisely this aim.
The focus is on supporting entrepreneurs.
Bottles, styrofoam and other plastic garbage thrown into the sea float on a pier in Singapore. (Photo: AFP / Roslan Rahman)
Its director Simon Baldwin said he viewed entrepreneurs as “the machine room for system change”.
“Imagine if we could source, support, and scale the best, smartest ideas to solve this problem. Now entrepreneurs are not going to solve this problem on their own, so we’re also working with other key stakeholders to create a more favorable environment for entrepreneurs and businesses, “said Baldwin.
He added that the organization is also working with large corporations and governments to help them implement policies that could potentially reduce an entrepreneur’s risk of moving into space.
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One of the programs of the incubation network is the Plastic Data Challenge, in which hundreds of entrepreneurs from around the world took part.
Innovative ideas were offered on how to work with data to understand how material flows through waste systems in the area.
One of the finalists is a start-up called Clearbot, which uses a swarm of robots to collect garbage from oceans or rivers.
Clearbot uses a swarm of robots to collect garbage from oceans or rivers. (Photo: Facebook / Clearbot)
The incubation network helped Clearbot find suitable mentors and connected them to an accelerator in Surabaya to test their prototype.
As one of the finalists for the challenge, they also received $ 10,000.
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Mr Baldwin said entrepreneurs with specific solutions to local problems are key to clearing the oceans.
“We find that there are a lot of people with ideas, but there is so little coordination within the ecosystem,” said Baldwin.
“We really believe that we will be able to find ways and navigate some of these startups through this emerging and exciting area. We can help them connect with mentors … get on with early grants and funding too connect that allow them to experiment and scale.
“They are too risky for venture capital right now. But our idea is that through these pilot studies and through these projects we can help them build relationships and connections in the region.”
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He also welcomed the government’s recent budget announcements and the Green Plan, which he believes will help create a market for startups.
“When governments create goals and aspirations and set goals, entrepreneurs moving into this area can take fewer risks. We saw really ambitious goals in the Singapore Green Plan for improving waste sorting technology, increasing recycling and converting ash from incineration into building materials. These are all good examples of opportunities for an entrepreneur.
“We can help you, we can help you take this opportunity and, in some way, jeopardize entry into this area, knowing that there is a market for the types of technologies they are working on.”