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The eco-entrepreneurs waging war on plastic pollution in oceans

Plastic is in pretty much everything that we use, and it’s become a major source of pollution, particularly in the world’s oceans. Money Mind looks at how some organisations are helping to stem the tide.

The eco-entrepreneurs waging war on plastic pollution in oceans

Eight million tonnes of plastic waste are entering the world's oceans every year. (Photo: AFP/JOHN WESSELS)

SINGAPORE: From straws to takeaway containers, plastic bags and personal protective equipment - the amount of plastic that is used every year is growing.

Despite a global push for recycling and reducing single use plastics, much of this ends up as waste in the world’s oceans.

Every year, about 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans. That is equivalent to more than 15 bags of garbage, on every metre of coastline around the world.

“We can immediately see the impact this has on the marine life. But what we do not know for sure now 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 then could enter the food chain when people eat seafood,” she added.

According to a 2015 report by the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey, 60 per cent of all plastic waste in the ocean comes from five Asian countries – China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

Although Singapore does not contribute much to plastic pollution in the ocean, experts say we still have a part to play in the clean-up.

“Anyone who has gone to East Coast Park in the morning would have seen the amount of plastic waste that’s being washed ashore. So this really shows that this is a transboundary problem," said Ms Lin.

"It doesn’t matter where the plastic comes from, whether it originates in Singapore or some other countries. Solving the plastic waste problem requires a coordinated effort globally and shared responsibility in a collective approach.”

The materials expert said that Singapore is well-positioned to drive leadership in this area.

The Incubation Network was founded in Singapore in 2019 with just that goal in mind.

The focus is on supporting entrepreneurs.

Bottles, styrofoam and other plastic waste thrown into the sea float by a pier in Singapore. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

Its director Simon Baldwin said that it views entrepreneurs as "the engine room for changing systems".

“So think of us as being able to source, support, and scale the best and brightest ideas to address this problem. Now, entrepreneurs by themselves aren’t going to solve this problem alone, so we also work with other key stakeholders, to ensure a more enabling environment for entrepreneurs, businesses to scale," said Mr Baldwin.

He added that the organisation also works with large companies and governments to help them implement policies that could potentially de-risk an entrepreneur from moving into the space.

READ: Commentary - A case for making plastic bags in Singapore ugly – or even embarrassing

One of the programmes run by the Incubation Network is the Plastic Data Challenge, which attracted hundreds of entrepreneurs from around the world.

On offer were innovative ideas on working with data to understand how material flows through waste systems across the region.

One of the finalists is a start-up called Clearbot, which uses a swarm of robots to collect trash from oceans or rivers.

Clearbot uses a swarm of robots to collect trash from oceans or rivers. (Photo: Facebook/Clearbot)


The Incubation Network has helped Clearbot to find suitable mentors and connected them with an accelerator in Surabaya to trial their prototype.

As one of the finalists of the challenge, they also received US$10,000 in funding.  

READ: Commentary - Here’s what months of food deliveries and takeaways have taught us

Mr Baldwin said entrepreneurs with specific solutions for local problems are key to cleaning the oceans. 

“We’re finding that there’s lots of people with ideas but there’s such little coordination within the ecosystem," said Mr Baldwin.

"We really think that we’re able to help wayfind, help navigate some of these start-ups through this emerging and exciting space. We’re able to help them connect to mentors ... connect to early grants and funding that allows them to experiment and scale.

"They’re too risky at the moment for venture capital. But our idea is that through these pilot studies and through these projects, that we can support them with building relationships and building connections into the region.”

READ: Singapore unveils Green Plan 2030, outlines green targets for next 10 years

READ: Here’s what life could look like when the new Green Plan is realised in 2030

He also welcomed the Government’s recent Budget announcements and the Green Plan, which he believes will help create a market for start-ups.

“When governments create goals and aspirations and set targets, it allows to de-risk entrepreneurs moving into that space. We saw in the Singapore Green Plan really ambitious goals for improving waste sorting technology, increasing recycling, turning ash from incineration into building materials. These are all great examples of opportunities for entrepreneurs.

"We can help you, we can help expose you to this opportunity and in a way de-risk the entry into that space because they know that there is a market for the types of technologies that they that they’re working on.”

Source: CNA/aj

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