There have been a few waste tech startups emerging in Southeast Asia to address the increase in local and imported municipal solid waste. According to the World Bank’s What A Waste 2.0 report, global waste will likely grow from 2.01 billion tonnes annually to 3.40 billion by 2050. East Asia and the Pacific regions are generating most of the world’s waste at 23% and failing to manage it properly and safely, which has terrible environmental and societal health consequences.
In 2020, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) highlighted the global trash trade wars that began with China banning waste importation from the Americas, Europe, and other regions. Initially, these areas opted to handle waste management by exporting it to Southeast Asia. However, locals in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ultimately protested, and their governments began cracking down and banning waste imports.
Research by Statista released in 2021 showed that 75% of Southeast Asia’s waste in 2018 went to open dumps and 4% to landfills. Further Statista research between August and September last year showed that 74% of East and Southeast Asia respondents believed recycling was vital. The region is struggling with plastic waste and increased household and medical waste due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is e-waste, and why should Southeast Asia tech startups care?
As the region works towards solutions, these five emerging waste tech startups in Southeast Asia are trying to address the problems:
Food waste management company Lumitics is based in Singapore and offers a food-tracking solution known as Insight. The tracker uses image recognition technology and sensors to record the amount of food being thrown away by kitchens and other food establishments.
Thus far, Lumitics has raised USD $556.3 thousand from Intelak Hub, Ready Ventures, Spring Singapore, Singapore Tourism Accelerator, Startup-O, Louise Daley, and Franck Courmont. Previous funds raised were to help in expansion. The company continues its push to combat food wastage in businesses and air travel to protect the environment.
Singapore-based Waste Labs is a data and artificial intelligence (AI) platform that digitises waste logistics and collection. The company gives waste managers access to insights to improve efficiency in refuse collection and manage the use of recyclable materials.
Waste Labs has raised USD 553.1 thousand from Entrepreneur First and Fund for Stability and Energy (F4SE). It’s using the money to boost its tech product capabilities and help companies analyse information to raise their performance and increase profitability.
Indonesian company DamoGO optimises food supply chains to prevent food wastage. Its goal is to create sustainable food ecosystems whereby Food and Beverage (F&B) businesses can manage their suppliers and vendors and access produce from farms for their kitchens. It provides an app for users to manage and track orders and keep digital records.
Thus far, the company has only raised USD 130 thousand in two seed rounds in 2018 and 2020 through undisclosed investors.
The Nurturing Co
Singapore-based The Nurturing Co creates earth-friendly products for daily essentials, such as tissue paper and plastic-free packaging. The company ensures that it only works with other environmentally conscious businesses and monitors its energy consumption and emissions. It sources its materials carefully to avoid destroying ecosystems.
The Nurturing Co has raised USD 400 thousand in three funding rounds from a single investor: zVentures. It continues to strive toward its mission of improving communities and meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Indonesia-based Octopus is a circular economy platform. According to UNCTAD, a circular economy encourages recycling, repairing, reusing, or sharing products to reduce waste and to ensure the recovery of byproducts and refuse for reuse. Octopus promotes waste segregation for homeowners and ensures that producers can track and collect their post-consumer products, which are either recyclable or non-recyclable.
In July, Octopus raised USD 5 million in a Seed round from investors including Openspace, Javas Venture LLC, and SOSV. The company plans to use the money to add more waste collectors, boost its services, and expand to other areas.
Waste tech startups in Southeast Asia are addressing many challenges to protect the environment. Two of the most easily adoptable zero-waste practices that people are encouraged to integrate into their lives and business practices include switching to products with reusable packaging and avoiding hard-to-recycle items.
According to the World Bank, waste management is labour-intensive and costly. The organisation provides a USD 20 million regional grant for ASEAN to fight marine plastic pollution. However, governments should do more to support waste tech startups in their countries to help clean up the region, promote social health, and be good custodians of the environment.
Better coordination on managing regional waste is necessary, such as agreeing not to import waste from Europe and the Americas. Furthermore, improvements in the current laws on waste disposal must be implemented to prevent illegal dumping and guarantee safe and sustainable methods of removing waste from households and society.