Why rethinking waste may be good for business

One man’s trash is another’s opportunity to develop smart waste systems for tomorrow’s cities. Experts at a recent panel discussion talked about business opportunities in the environmental service sector and the benefits of a circular economy.

singapore marina bay skyline
Waste is not just waste. Companies or creative individuals that can contribute to sustainability solutions for tomorrow's cities, especially in the field of waste management, will find plenty of business opportunities. Image: Jason Pitcher, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

Businesses that can leverage smart technologies to create sustainable solutions for cities, particularly in the field of waste management, will find opportunities aplenty.

This was one major takeaway from a panel discussion themed “Optimising smart technologies for novel environmental solutions” that was streamed live on Facebook last week as a curtain raiser for the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore 2018.

“Waste management is a key issue that we need to find solutions for,” said Masagos Zulkifli, Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, pointing out that Singapore’s incineration plants are only a temporary solution until domestic waste recycling rates can be increased. In 2017, only 6 per cent of Singapore’s plastic and 16 per cent of its food waste got recycled, and the city-state’s only landfill is rapidly filling up.

Nothing is waste until it’s wasted.

Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Singapore

By shifting towards a circular economy, Singapore could solve its waste issue and a number of other problems related to pollution, resource management and climate change, argued Masagos, who urged societies to regard waste as a resource.

The circular economy is a concept that is essential for creating sustainable environmental solutions, said panellists. A departure from the linear “take-make-waste” economic models, it seeks to reduce waste, recovers resources at the end of a product’s life, and channels them back into production, thus significantly reducing pressure on the environment.

“If we recover valuable resources from our waste streams and keep them in the production loop, we don’t need to go back to the jungles or the mountains and destroy nature to mine new resources,” Masagos said.

“Nothing is waste until it’s wasted,” he added.

Plenty of business opportunities

The increasing demand for smart technology solutions – smart sensors, advanced tracking technology, blockchain technology and artificial intelligence, to name a few – that facilitate circular business models present many opportunities for creative minds wanting to build high-tech start-ups in these areas, said professor Seeram Ramakrishna, chair of the Circular Economy Taskforce, National University of Singapore.

You’re going to miss out on business opportunities if you don’t go into the field of smart waste collection systems.

Dalson Chung, managing director, CESS 2018

This new market potential reaches far beyond Singapore’s borders, Dalson Chung, managing director of CESS 2018, told the panel. “There are enormous business opportunities in waste management in Singapore alone, but all other cities in the whole region have similar waste management issues. If the solutions can be adopted in Singapore, they can also be applied in other cities.”

“You’re going to miss out on business opportunities if you don’t go into the field of smart waste collection systems,” he concluded.

The fourth edition of CESS, held from 8 to 12 July at the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Singapore, will focus on smart technology and showcase state-of-the-art trends in smart waste collection.

With a staggering 44 million people being added to Asia’s urban populations every year, cities face increasing sustainability challenges.

To that end, this year’s edition of CESS will host a session for individuals to share their sustainability ideas with venture capitalists and companies. A second co-located event will showcase entrepreneurs vying for a chance to win S$1 million in funding for their groundbreaking waste management or cooling solutions to create better cities in The Liveability Challenge, presented by Temasek Foundation Ecosperity and organised by Eco-Business.

But Masagos emphasised that along with technology and policy solutions that regulate how much waste is produced and recovered in the industry, society must make a collective effort to address environmental issues. Segregating household waste in private households is one such action that citizens can take to accelerate progress towards a circular economy and zero waste nation by 2030, he said. 

“We’re looking to get everyone involved in managing the waste with us. First, we need to segregate our waste, because when we do that and don’t contaminate usable waste streams, then we will be able to extract better value from it.”

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