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Circular economy needs innovative product design thinking

  • Matt Gray · Vice President Commercial Asia Pacific at DSM

  • 25 June 2018

For Singapore to go zero waste by 2030, we must design products in a way that makes waste valuable again

Singapore has a waste problem. The world has a waste problem. From plastic bottles to wasted food, we are throwing money into the trash at the expense of our planet. But it is not all doom and gloom. In fact, there is a lot of business opportunity to be found in all that is being wasted. As a nation, Singapore's goal is zero waste by 2030. How would that be possible?

Recycling is a good first step, but it is not enough to fix the bigger issue. The problem is that we use natural resources to make products; then we use those products once and throw them away. It is not a good system. During a recent Facebook live session, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said creating a more circular economy is the solution. He is right. A circular economy can help us make the most of natural resources.

Today, we have a linear economy. Things only go in one direction. We take, make and waste. The circular economy instead mimics nature, the circle of life. It is a way of designing products and services to reduce waste and pollution. Things should be made so they can be used as many times as possible. Then, when they cannot be used anymore, good design should make it easy for that product or its parts to be regenerated by nature (such as composting) or technology (recycling). In other words, you can make that waste valuable again.

Renewable energy is an important part of the circular economy. Our lives can and should be powered by sun, wind, water, and even plant-based biofuels instead of fossil fuels. Businesses can help make this happen. They should be designing products and services that fit this new system. It is a huge financial opportunity that is worth trillions, according to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission.

Governments should create awareness and support the right infrastructure. The good news is both business and governments are starting to do that. Consumers can help too. As a consumer, you can think about the things you use, the food you waste and make better choices. Today, each person wastes about 140kg of food a year. Instead, you can compost your food scraps or donate nearly expired food products to Food Bank Singapore, a non-profit that "rescues" food and delivers it to the hungry.

When you eat out, use your own cutlery instead of using disposable plastic ones. As food court operators eliminate disposable straws, a stainless-steel straw might come in handy too. You can help electronic waste get a new lease on life by depositing it at special "e-waste" collection points around Singapore. Some telcos and consumer electronics companies also offer drop-off locations for old smartphones and computer accessories.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can vote with your dollars by choosing products and services that are more environmentally friendly. Singapore has a way to go. Today, household e-waste recycling rates are only at 6 per cent, for example. But I am optimistic that the Government is taking the steps to support a more sustainable society and that entrepreneurs, big companies and consumers will work together to help the country be a leader in sustainability by 2030

This article was published earlier in The New Paper

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