The over-reliance of plastic and food waste are two of the most pressing issues faced in South East Asia. With mounting heaps of trash disposed and rarely recycled, what can producers do to ensure a more circular system?
By Agatha Wong
South East Asia continues to grapple with the tsunami of food waste that its people produces: Indonesia, for one, disposed roughly 23-48 million tonnes of food waste annually from 2000 to 2019, while in Singapore, 817,000 tonnes of food waste was collected. Bangkok, on the other hand, throws away almost 5000 tonnes of food per day.
These massive numbers are, however, mismatched against the percentage of waste recycled. Only 19% of the waste collected in Singapore is recycled; and Thailand manages 2%. The situation at hand is thus clear: consumers are creating more waste than they are able to recycle.
More than that, with food comes packaging: Styrofoam boxes, plastic bottles and straws — these, too, enter the waste stream, with some polluting rivers and seas. In the Philippines alone, 79% of its branded plastic residual waste comes from packaging; in Indonesia, that number stands at 65%.
Taken together, these colossal figures can be intimidating for food and packaging manufacturers who are tasked alongside lawmakers to manage the amount of waste discarded. However, sustainability-driven companies, such as AlterPacks, have found ways to turn the situation around by transforming discarded food ingredients into food packaging solution, promoting a circular economy.
“The genesis of AlterPacks lies in garbage,” explained Karen Cheah, founder and CEO of the Singapore-based material technology start-up. “In my travels, I witnessed whole communities choking under the weight of their waste, made up of plastic containers and food waste. Hence, the mission of AlterPacks was to use what was being thrown out to create food containers that would be a replacement to plastic disposables. The vision of our company is to throw out this throw-away culture that has become ubiquitous with plastics in packaging.”
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