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News that 175 countries, including Thailand, have agreed to forge a binding treaty to end plastic pollution is good news for Thailand’s entrepreneurs who are eager to find solutions to one of Thailand’s most pressing issues: plastic waste.
A landmark resolution at the recent fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly has pledged to create an international legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution. The treaty covers the full life cycle of plastics, introducing a circular approach to their production, use and disposal. Scheduled to be ratified by 2024, there remains plenty of work to do, but the agreement presents a unique opportunity for Thailand to set a global example in environmental leadership.
Thailand is the world’s 6th largest contributor to marine plastic waste, generating approximately 322,000 of the 8-10 million tonnes that are dumped into the ocean every year, according to the World Bank. Inefficiencies in plastic management have resulted in much of the country’s waste being incinerated, dumped in unsanitary landfills or leaked into the environment, especially via waterways. This not only results in animals and people ingesting microplastics, but impacts water and air quality, and accelerates climate change.
These types of treaties are broad and complicated, and it will naturally take some time to negotiate and draft. But as the signatory nations begin this work, there are numerous homegrown startups and Thai entrepreneurs who are already finding effective, innovative solutions to the problem. Thailand’s population has been shown to be very aware of the plight of the plastics problem and are eager to help tackle it, as shown in the 2020 ban of single-use plastic bags across major retailers and department stores.
Food Loss Food Waste is one such startup. By separating plastic waste from food waste and providing community recycling centers, they are able to upcycle organic waste into something usable – compost – and send 88% of the plastic waste they collect to recycling centers. By 2023, a full year before the plastics treaty comes into effect, the company plans to be processing 100 tonnes of waste per year.
Another company taking the lead is PoonSook Craft, which runs workshops in Phuket to educate people on their role in the plastic cycle and how they can play a part in keeping plastic out of the oceans. A recent partnership with a local school resulted in more than 40,000 plastic bottle caps being collected, which were promptly recycled into surfskate boards and given back to the students who did the collecting.
Food Loss Food Waste and PoonSook Craft have thrived in part thanks to the support of the Thailand Waste Management Recycling Academy, organized by The Incubation Network and Seedstars. Both organizations were finalists of the program, which provides learning and funding opportunities for entrepreneurs focused on reducing marine plastic waste.
The UN treaty will hopefully be a catalyst for innovation, driving research and development and helping organizations like The Incubation Network continue to support entrepreneurs as they work on cutting-edge new solutions.
In addition, the treaty will also provide a measure of support for ground-up efforts to tackle the plastic waste issue, as entrepreneurs and investors find a more receptive business environment for recyclable packaging solutions, allowing producers to play a bigger part in solving plastic waste at the source. This presents an opportunity for private and public sectors to come together to support entrepreneurial innovation across the value chain to remove barriers entrepreneurs often face, including lack of investment, training and connections to bring their solutions to commercial scale.
Thailand is well-positioned to take a leading role in tackling plastic waste, and we have seen amazing energy around the entrepreneurial space dedicated to solving these problems, with more innovative ideas entering the playing field. We need to find ways to harness this energy and channel it into productive solutions.
Doing so can place Thailand in a favorable position when the treaty goes into effect in 2024. Thai entrepreneurs have the talent and drive to address this pressing issue in real and meaningful ways, and all sectors of Thai society must be ready to support their growth and development.
By Simon Baldwin, Director of The Incubation Network and Global Head of Circularity for SecondMuse