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Natural Capital & The Environment

Data Solutions for our Plastic Crisis

Admin | Jan 16, 2020

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The Plastics Data Challenge will catalyze the growth of a new sector of technology that will play a crucial role in reducing mismanaged plastic waste while adding more transparency, predictability, and profit to the circular economy. Here’s how:

Data and our world’s greatest challenges 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has disrupted industry after industry. The most significant development of the fourth industrial revolution is the increasing ability to generate, capture, and transmit data – particularly from the IoT (internet of things) and our connected devices. The implications for what we can do with this data are huge and will be critical for the global sustainability agenda.

Such disruptive technologies will enable and empower humanity to solve complex and ever-evolving environmental challenges. Therefore, harnessing data will allow us to create traceability in murky supply chains, provides opportunities to find efficiencies, connect and understand key nodes and actors, and essentially make the ‘invisible’ more ‘visible’. 

For example, a World Economic Forum report emphasised the importance of traceability in improving agriculture and food systems worldwide. With one-third of all food produced currently being wasted, end-to-end supply chain visibility can inform and enable farmers, regulators, businesses, and consumers to make better choices that optimise the agricultural landscape. 

As the saying goes, 

Whatever that gets measured, gets managed.

Sourcing data to curb plastic waste 

Data on plastic production and waste management across South and Southeast Asia is missing, inconsistent, or unreliable because the region’s complex plastics value chains are fragmented and reliant on the informal economy. The result is limited visibility and transparency as well as an inability to effectively track, monitor, forecast, or optimize material flows and reduce ocean leakage. Technologies, models and data science being applied in other complex systems can be adopted into plastic waste management and revolutionize Asia’s circular economy.

From agriculture, energy, and insurance to public health and even human trafficking, data technologies are the foundation to develop models that help manage complex systems and drive transformational change. By leveraging such solutions to fill the data gap, The Plastics Data Challenge will catalyze the growth of a new sector of technology that will play a crucial role in reducing mismanaged plastic waste while adding more transparency, predictability, and profit to the circular economy. 

The Challenge will focus on three key areas: 

Challenge Area 1 – Improved Visibility of Plastic Waste Generation and Material Flows

Due to poor waste management systems in South and Southeast Asia, there is a lack of visibility and transparency on plastic waste generation patterns as well as plastic waste material flows. Without this information, the region – especially at the country and community level – is unable to effectively track, monitor, forecast, or optimize waste management operations for material flows.

This Challenge Area seeks to improve the understanding, awareness, and forecasting of plastic waste generation and material flows across South and Southeast Asia. Specifically, it calls for innovations to better track and understand issues such as, where plastic waste comes from, where it goes, what the quality of waste is like, and the influence of consumer attitudes on plastic flows.

Challenge Area 2 – Optimisation of Circular Supply Chains for Plastics 

With global consumption and production of plastics on the rise globally, and with Asia being one of the fastest-growing markets, the plastics supply chain requires innovation to keep pace. 

This Challenge Area calls for improvements of the visibility, efficiency, and value creation across circular supply chains for plastics in South and Southeast Asia via data-driven solutions. This will require rethinking of the plastics supply chain, to one that moves away from linear take-make-waste models to a more regenerative and restorative one.

Challenge Area 3 – Identification & Prevention of Plastic Waste Leakage

While there are many reports quantifying land-based inputs from coastal populations, assessment of contributions to ocean pollution from inland populations through riverine systems has been less frequent. 

The Challenge is looking for data solutions and technologies to better map, monitor, understand, and forecast plastic leakage into the environment. This is so that communities are able to identify and prevent the leakage of plastic waste into waterways across South and Southeast Asia. 

Applications now open for the Plastics Data Challenge 

The challenge invites all innovators worldwide (including academic institutions, startups, companies, and data scientists) to submit their innovative data solutions that advance plastic waste management and the circular economy in South and Southeast Asia. Participants have the chance to win up to $10,000 USD, a trip to Singapore for a one-week Innovation Summit, technical support and the opportunity to pilot their innovation in the region! Applications close 13 March 2020. 

Full details on the challenge and how to submit applications can be found here.

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