Everywhere in Southeast Asia, the plastic waste outcry has emerged thanks largely to awareness raised by social media

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The ever-connected world has opened eyes to the amount of trash Southeast Asia, in particular, has collected as the receiving ends of developed countries’ junk in addition to its pile of trash.

Videos of sea animal suffering death by plastic or divers swimming in the sea of trash might be a trigger to finally do something because it is finally trendy to say no to plastic.

According to an article from Southeast Asia Globe, Southeast Asia countries have started to pick up the slack, albeit late.

Malaysia last year issued a permanent ban on the import of plastic waste and announced it will be phasing out the import of other types of plastic by 2021. Thailand will also stop plastic waste imports by 2021, and Vietnam has banned the issuance of licences for the import of plastic waste in preparation for a total ban by 2025.

In another article bt Southeast Asia Globe, aside from being the destination for 75 per cent of the world’s waste -much of it plastic-, Asia also has poor waste management, resulting in the continent became the biggest ocean plastic, polluters.

According to 2017 report by the Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, more than half of the plastic waste in the ocean comes from just five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand.

With plastic became a major problem in our waste management, the trend has caught up to recycling and minimising a single use of plastic. More people -Millennials and Gen Z to be exact- are raising awareness, which is a good thing that these 16 startups are hoping to last, and not just a fad that sizzles away.

Gringgo, Indonesia

Indonesia has repeatedly made international news because of the numerous whale found dead of plastic ingestion washed ashore. So this country is really in the deep with plastic trash.

Gringgo Indonesia Foundation was named one of 20 grantees of the Google AI Impact Challenge, receiving US$500,000 of funding from Google.org, to help put a stop to the sloppy waste management that could put trash in its 50,000 km of coastline.

Gringgo was co-founded by Febriadi Pratama, who’s also the company’s CTO. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to give waste workers tools to track their collections and productivity in hopes to boost their earning power while also helping the environment.

“Waste workers’ livelihood depends on the volume and value of the recyclable waste they collect. The idea is to build an image recognition tool that would help improve plastic recycling rates by classifying different materials and giving them a monetary value.

“In turn, this will reduce ocean plastic pollution and strengthen waste management in under-resourced communities. We believe this creates a new economic model for waste management that prioritises people and the planet,” Pratama explained.

Also Read: Can the new waste disposal app bail out Bali from its waste problem?

Pratama mentioned that trash is the country’s major problem due to the country’s topography that makes it more challenging to put a price on recyclables. It consists of more than 17,000 islands with 5 major islands, but most recycling facilities are based on the mainland of Java, making transporting recyclables from other islands expensive, causing materials with low value left unsorted, end up polluting the environment.

Addressing the issue, Gringgo launched several apps in 2017—both for waste workers and the public. One of the apps allows waste workers to track the amount and type of waste they collect to save time by suggesting a more organised route, and manually quantify their collections and earning potential.

The other app is launched for the public, connecting people with waste collection services for their homes.

Gringgo mentioned that it has Google’s support in working with the Indonesian startup Datanest to build an image recognition tool using Google’s machine learning platform, TensorFlow. With the collaboration, waste workers can better analyse and classify waste items, and quantify their value through a photo of trash they took, and through image recognition.

Klean, Malaysia

Klean is a Malaysian-based startup that was one of the six finalists for The Liveability Challenge and managed to secure up to S$1 million (US$733,000) in funding for the development of their projects. The challenge aims to close the financing gap between the ideas that will make cities better and the investments that will turn solutions into reality.

Founded by Mohamad Arif and Datuk Dr Nick Boden, Klean offers a Malaysian-made smart reverse vending machine (SRVM) with Klean operating system and an app that rewards people for recycling empty polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and aluminum cans with points scheme. The points are redeemable for rewards such as prepaid air time and discounts for transportation rides, goods, and services.

Klean also teams up with HelloGold in a mission to “tackle generational poverty” that lets users
who return bottles and cans to build up a gold portfolio, allowing the underprivileged community to save money using readily available waste and to use it as business loan collateral if they wish so.

According to an article published by The Star Malaysia last year, Klean has teamed up with a beverage company to start a proof of concept on a container deposit scheme in Singapore.

NanoMalaysia, Malaysia

A fresh invention from Malaysian young PhD student-entrepreneurs, NanoMalaysia, offers alternatives to food packing that seeks to dramatically reduce supermarket plastic waste.

NanoMalaysia won The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Global Challenge with their approach for packing dried, loose food products by using carrageenan and starch to create dissolvable food blocks called PICAS block, in the hope of significantly reducing the amount of plastic waste from supermarkets.

Evoware, Indonesia

Edible food wrappings and sachets as alternatives to single-use plastics for packaging certainly are not something new, but it is yet to catch a wave with Southeast Asia’s food industry.

In Indonesia, Evoware, co-founded by David Christian, offers seaweed-based wrappings for instant coffee or noodle sachets that make it edible or dissolvable after usage.

Christian claimed that it uses seaweed without chemical additives in applications, allowing it to dissolve in hot water or be eaten. Seaweed, he said, has one of the best mechanical properties while still being energy efficient and very economical with friendly land cultivation.

Evoware challenges the comfort of single-use wrappings and offers a circular economy solution instead to help free the oceans from the trash. With seaweed, it plans to increase its local capacity and is in a position to expand internationally since seaweed can grow on almost every coastline.

Also, Evoware has designed a version, made using damar resin from South Asian fig trees, that holds liquids, creating readily compostable packaging for personal care products and medical supplies.

Evoware is a Circular Design Challenge winner in category Redesigning sachets. It also joined
the New Plastics Economy Accelerator Programme.

RWDC Industries, Singapore

RWDC Industries is a Singaporean biotechnology startup co-founded by Roland Wee and Daniel Carraway that develops cost-effective biopolymer material solutions in 2015. The company, according to an article from e27, produces medium-chain-length polyhydroxyalkanoate (mclPHA) biopolymers that can be used to make eco-friendly consumable products.

In Entrepreneurs’ article, it is explained that PHAs are linear polyesters naturally produced by bacterial fermentation of plant-based oils or sugar and are widely recognised as the only commercially viable biodegradable plastic due to its versatility.

Also Read: Biodegradable plastic startup RWDC Industries raises US$22M in fresh funding

RWDC claims its PHA is certified to be fully biodegradable in soil, water, and marine conditions by agency TÜV Austria (formerly Vincotte), within weeks with no toxic residue.

RWDC said that it aims to supply bio-based materials to its clients, which can then turn them into products like single-use cutlery, straws, diapers, wipes, and agricultural mulch films.

In 2018, the startup closed a US$13 million Series A2 round co-led by venture capital firms Vickers Venture Partners and WI Harper Group. Finance firm Ridgevale Enterprises and individual investors also participated in the round.

The funding was used to expand PHA production capacity in Athens, US, to 2,000 tonnes per year, making it one of the world’s largest PHA producers.

In July, RWDC won the inaugural Liveability Challenge, presented by Temasek Foundation Ecosperity, securing S$980,000 (US$710,000) in funding for its proposal to make fully biodegradable drinking straws made of PHA.

RWDC Industries has raised US$22 million in the third tranche of its ongoing Series A round of funding, led by early-stage investment firm Vickers Venture Partners and US-based Eversource Retirement Plan Master Trust — its first institutional investor. Others who participated in the round include cross-border VC firms and existing backer WI Harper Group.

Avani Eco, Indonesia

It’s uplifting to see there is more than just one solution to replace the use of polluting plastic out there, and Avani Eco first made news when a viral video of its founder drinking a soluble plastic bag caught international news’ eagle eyes.

Avani Eco was established in 2014 by Kevin Kumala, a biology graduate, to provide a technology solution that can be adopted by businesses and end consumers. The main product was originally a cassava-based poncho before Avani Eco provides a full range of sustainable packaging and hospitality products made from renewable and natural ingredients of root vegetable cassava, that are fully compostable, from plastic bags, straws, hospital covers, to styrofoam-lookalike food packaging.

According to a CNN article, Kumala and his school friend partner studied the emerging field of bioplastics and took inspiration from new materials based on corn and soy starch. They devised their recipe using cassava starch, vegetable oil, and organic resins.

In 2017, CNN reported that Avani secured funding from a private equity group for the first time.

With Bali banning plastic bags in 2018, the company has grown significantly despite categorised as a premium product with twice the price of regular plastic.

Upp!, Vietnam

Here’s a startup that offers solutions to the already-disposed plastics, by upcycling it into a construction material. Upp! is a social enterprise startup based in both the Netherlands and Vietnam, that hopes to save plastic waste from landfills and oceans by introducing circular plastic factories in 10 cities by 2025, according to an article by Green Queen.

Founded in 2017 in the Netherlands and later expanding to operate in Vietnam as well, Upp! is supports companies, communities, and local authorities to become plastic waste-free by working alongside several local partners to make repurposed plastic products.

These repurposed plastic products can then be used in many ways, from becoming construction materials to building recycled parks.

Taraph Technologies, Singapore

Singapore-based Taraph Technologies is a green tech startup that aims to remove all plastic waste by 2050. It was co-founded by Liew Mei Shan.

The company offers Waste Management Diagnosis and Waste Management Consultancy. According to an excerpt from a Bloomberg’s piece, Taraph Technologies is one of the companies using bacteria or organic processes which harnesses natural enzymes that digest plastics and turn them into chemicals normally produced in oil refineries.

Right now, the article highlighted, mono-ethylene glycol from enzyme-eaten plastic bottles can be sold at prices 10 times higher than the value of trash, but Liew expects the technology to be commercially available in 5 to 10 years.

In April 2019, Taraph Technologies received pre-seed funding from the investment committee of Entrepreneur First.


How did you put technology into a reusable cup to make it work? This Vietnam-based startup called AYA REUSABLE CUP (AYA) founded by Linh Le offers users the ability to use and return the cup to eliminate the use of single plastic.

It does so by allowing a request of an eco-friendly cup AYA at any participating coffee shop or smoothie bar with consumers’ ID code. With the Life Time Membership Pass option, consumers can drop the AYACUP at any participating locations.

According to an article published by Innolab.Asia, the startup was the most-voted idea in first CrowdPitch Vietnam 2019.

Eco-Plastics, Cambodia

Being crowned runner-up in the 12th year of The Mekong Business Challenge (MBC), two female Cambodian entrepreneurs introduced Eco-Plastic, a startup that plans to utilise Cambodia’s plastic waste to pave cheaper, more durable roads.

Eco-Plastics was co-founded by Bunhourng Tan and Sokhana Ly and it claimed to have received funding from a US investor, as reported by Phnom Penh Post.

Sokhana said: “By establishing Eco-Plastic, we can use plastic waste to improve our roads, transforming landfill waste into a road fill product.”

Cleanbodia, Cambodia

Founded by Japanese-American entrepreneur Kai Kuramoto in 2015, Cleanbodia creates an online platform that offers a biodegradable bag made of the cassava starch. According to Phnom Penh Post‘s article, Cleanbodia has two products: the biodegradable bag that contains plastic and lasts for six years, and compostable bags, contains no plastic and lasts under two years.

Right now, Kuramoto and his team of engineers are still working on having the bags produced in the country.

Also Read: Meet the 15 startups competing for SustainableAg Asia Challenge by Rabobank

“Currently, the bags are not produced in Cambodia, but are made in Southeast Asia. We have studied the possibility of building a factory here in the Kingdom and are still assessing the best way to do that with the right partners.

“Production here would allow for cheaper biodegradable bags and there is certainly enough cassava grown to supply the production of the bags,” Kuramoto concluded.

GooGreen, Thailand

Thailand-based GooGreen is a startup that builds a platform to help urbanites efficiently collect and sort waste. Founded by Chatsanan Masawangpairoj, the company said it has worked with communities, schools, and factories and found these three sectors have efficient waste sorting procedure.

According to Startup Thailand, the platform comprises of mobile and web applications as well as waste disposal kiosks at office buildings. The kiosk staff will assist and instruct people on how to do proper waste sorting, she added.

GooGreen said that the idea of the startup is to encourage attitude change from disposing of waste to “depositing waste and earning points.” Users will be able to locate GooGreen kiosks in their office neighborhoods.

Solu, Philippines

Founded in March 2018 by Matthew Barrie, Solu is a Philippine-based startup that seeks to fix waste management in developing nations, as reported by e27.

Solu allows consumers to connect with waste collection centres who will pay them for their segregated waste.

With the collected waste redirected into where they can be repurposed, Solu believes that it will help make for a cleaner environment.

RecyGlo, Myanmar

e27 published an article on RecyGlo, a Myanmar startup that built a recycling pick-up service, that was accepted into the Katapult Ocean Accelerator Program from Norway and received a US$150,000 investment as part of the programme back in February 2019.

RecyGlo’s mission is to help Burmese companies improve their recycling habits through the scheduling and delivery process arrangement. If a company organises its recycling, RecyGlo will make sure it gets to the correct location.

RecyGlo was co-founded by Shwe Yamin Oo explains as such, who expressed her concern of poor waste management that ends up polluting rivers and ocean. RecyGlo also has alternative products like waste awareness training, a corporate social responsibility programme and a waste auditing service.

RecyGlo had previously come out of the Phandeeyar accelerator programme where it received its first injection of financing.

Chu Chu Design, Myanmar

According to a piece by Channel News Asia published in February 2018, Yangon produces 2,800 tonnes of rubbish every day that mostly ends up on the streets and in waterways. Seeing the littered streets, Chu Chu Design was inspired to do something, which was the inspiration behind a green startup that turns trash into eco-friendly craft products and creates jobs for the locals.

Chu Chu Design was originally a three-year project of Cesvi, an Italian non-profit organisation that strives to protect the environment and eradicate poverty through sustainable development worldwide. After the project came to an end in 2016, the concept continues to operate and generate income for its artisans.

“Although so much waste is left to die at dumpsites, we give it a new life at Chu Chu Design,” said manager Wendy Neampui, a 66-year-old who lives and works at the company, where she teaches 30 local women about recycling waste into handicrafts.

The company got its name from a Burmese word “Chu Chu”, which means plastic bag.

In Chu Chu Design, villagers who work for them get paid US$0.75 per hour for turning rubbish into reusable goods. They select usable parts to clean and make artistic, eco-friendly products out of them.

It also employs students to clean the streets after school and earn US$3 for a cartful of recyclable waste. Customers can take part in protecting the environment and supporting children’s education by paying US$3 for a bracelet made from recycled materials.

Currently, their products are sold at established social-enterprises in downtown Yangon.

Nature Myanmar, Myanmar

Published in an article on The Myanmar Times, Nature Myanmar is a small startup founded in 2018 by Ko Min Kyaw Zin and Ko Than Zaw Oo, offering areca palm leaves-based solution to replace styrofoam and plastic.

Areca nuts, or commonly referred to as betel nuts, are the fruit of the areca palm tree. The leaves of the plants are commonly used to place food.

Currently, a total of 13 kinds of products are being manufactured in different sizes, with the most popular products being coffee cups, cork-substitute takeaway boxes, plates, bowls, and sauce plates.

The process of producing eco-friendly packaging is thorough. The leaves are first cleansed with heat and pressure before being pressed into shape with a heat press, followed by UV light-disinfected process before it’s being packed for delivery. The products have been tested in various laboratories and are expected to have a shelf life of six months.

Also Read: Sustainable and healthy food startup Boxgreen raises funding

According to this Eco-Business’s article, June 2019 marked the joint declaration by ASEAN countries that its members will take concrete actions and help one another to “prevent and significantly reduce marine debris”, including plastic waste, for example through the possible development of an East Asia regional plan of action and guidelines as environmentalists have called on the bloc to do more.

With encouraging and significant moves from the 16 startups mentioned, Southeast Asia’s plastic waste emergency may stand a chance to have a complete reversal. What’s left now is the backing of governments to speed up the process, and more spotlight to shine a light on the pressing issues.

In the meantime, the cliche of starting small with the simplest thing one can do such as eliminating the use of plastic remains effective.

Photo by Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash

The post Southeast Asia is in plastic waste crisis, and these 16 sustainable startups strive to turn things around appeared first on e27.
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