—a competition by the ASEAN Foundation, in partnership with SAP, that aims to equip ASEAN youth with skill sets that will help them thrive in the digital economy and unleash the region’s full potential. Utilizing SAP Analytics Cloud, the team looked at the trends and the challenges the waste management sector is facing and presented solutions to fill in these gaps.
Since most of the economic activity happens in urban centers, ASEAN has been experiencing rapid urbanization with almost half of its population concentrated in the cities. From 1990 to 2018, there has been a 130-percent increase in the urban population (See Figure 1). By 2025, about 70 million people are expected to be living in these areas (See Figure 1).
ASEAN is an economic powerhouse that has seen rapid economic growth and development in recent years. In fact, most of the ASEAN countries’ GDP per capita had double digit growth between 2010 and 2017 (See Figure 2).
THE PROBLEM IS PILING UP
It’s only going from bad to worse—especially in Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines. According to the ASEAN Cooperation on Environment, in 2012, Southeast Asia produced 202,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day and this is predicted to double by 2025.
What we’re seeing is the positive correlation between rapid urbanisation and an increase in economic prosperity with the amount of waste generated (See Figure 4). In other words as GDP increases, the amount of waste generated increases as well (See Figure 4).
And if the upward GDP and population trend is any indication, the waste problem is bound to grow exponentially and unsustainably in the near future. (See Figure 5)
It contaminates our resources, causes widespread flooding due to clogged waterways, endangers marine animals, poses a higher risk of disease transmission, and contributes to climate change. Economically, it discourages investments and paralyzes local tourism, impeding progress and development in the process.
This looming future was the rationale behind the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11, which focuses on sustainable cities and communities, countries pledge to reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities by 2030, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Managing waste properly is essential for building sustainable and livable cities, and it starts with identifying the areas where initiatives will have an immediate impact. For instance, food takes up the biggest chunk of the waste composition in ASEAN at 60 percent (See Figure 6), and, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption gets wasted every year.
Worse, over 40 percent of fruits and vegetables and roughly 30 percent of grains in the Asia Pacific region are lost along the food supply chain before reaching the consumers. Food waste also contributes to climate change, a bigger environment challenge, as it produces greenhouse gases like methane. From a social point of view, food wastage is unethical when millions of citizens across ASEAN are in moderate to serious risk of hunger and malnutrition.
How to solve this? Optimize the supply chain.
On-site real-time technology will also play a big role in food waste management. It will offer transparency regarding what is being discarded and will help identify specific ways to address it. Best of all, a technology-based solution will enhance inventory management and increase operational efficiency across the supply chain—thereby creating less waste in the long-run.
Some technologies that could drastically help reduce food waste are:
• Digital sensors to monitor temperature and humidity of agriculture
• Enterprise software to enhance stock management
• Technology for extending the shelf-life of food products
• System for weight-based disposal fees for food waste
But this will only work when stakeholders collaborate. Food waste may just one piece of the puzzle, but businesses that proactively look to reduce waste they create are not only doing smart business, but ethical business as well.
Shifting to a Circular Economy will help correct this as this system minimizes the inorganic waste we create, with its main objective being to enhance economic systems and industrial processes to make them more environmentally-friendly and sustainable. Contrary to Linear Economy, the predominant system in ASEAN whose endpoint is for products to be discarded as waste, Circular Economy channels products back into production in a continuous loop.
It promotes responsible consumption and production, which supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The underlying principle is for product vendors to look at their resources as assets instead of inputs, and their customers as users rather than buyers.
An approach to embracing Circular Economy is to adopt the Integrated Resource Recovery Centre model, a small-scale, decentralized, community-based waste-to-resource model to capture the value of waste. This model utilizes techniques such as organic composting, biogas capture, processing of clean recyclable materials like glass and plastic in order to transform waste into resources. It is being advocated by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and it is currently being tested in 17 cities across Asia Pacific, including in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
CLOSING THE LOOP
There is no one solution that can address our region’s waste problem. The issue needs to be tackled with a multi-faceted approach. It will involve the participation of various sectors and will require substantial changes in the value chain. We all have a part to play to reduce waste and urge our governments to make systemic changes.