Building Post COVID Resilience Using Circularity in Plastics

While the COVID pandemic has led to a welcome, positive, yet short-term reprieve for the environment – with reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and the like - evidence continues to mount for the considerable increases to the rate of plastics consumption occurring during the same period.  Driven by lowered petroleum demand, drops in oil prices, increased COVID-protocol related demand for single use plastics (SUP) and rising usage of disposable personal protective equipment (PPE), the result has, in many ways, effectively offset or even reversed the impact of many of the global plastics waste directives initiated to date.  Nations have had to prioritize immediate-term, health concerns over environmental impact, further exacerbating what we need to be accomplished globally.

Given the confluence of these circumstances, economies have the opportunity to utilize the means and methods inherent within a circular economy to build the requisite resilience required to weather the economic shocks on our horizon.  More specific to the plastics pollution issue, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation proposes ten circularity related investment opportunities for policymakers and practitioners, big and small, to create systems-level change that can be both replicated and scaled globally.

How to take on a Goliath?

For our part in this effort, the Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation (ICM Falk), is leveraging these circular, investment opportunities through innovative, locally driven and upstream solutions. Focusing on the early stages of the innovation lifecycle, ICM Falk seeks to ideate solutions that address plastics pollution (including the capacity building required for communities to ideate), test existing and new products and services firmly rooted in sustainable business models and build the networks necessary to scale successful solutions for greater impact.

As a private family foundation, ICM Falk’s contribution to building resilient economies in the post-COVID era, further build on the seminal, foundational work developed by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trust by supporting innovative projects that leverage the below multiplying factors; :

●  Circular & Upstream

For ICM Falk, a great project is one that is tightly aligned with creating a circular and sustainable product/service in the upstream space of the plastics supply chain. Building a regenerative and closed-loop approach to packaging, textile, etc. is one of the most effective and sustainable methods to drastically reduce plastics production and in turn, plastics pollution.

●  Local-Centric

Building new business models solely answering to circular logic is not sufficient. If traditional business sectors were able to  catch onto the idea of  localization early in during their global expansion to Asia during the 1990’s, the plastics innovation ecosystem could and must do better to create adequate solutions within a hyperlocal context. During trying times such as the COVID pandemic, a local-centric approach is often even more relevant in addressing the common global problem. ICM Falk wants to support solutions that have been created by and for local communities, through equitable partnerships, in order to ensure that circular solutions are adapted sustainably and remain in place long after our work is done. 

●  Co-impactful & Cross-Sector Focused

To reach the scale and eventual tipping point required for systems level change, working unilaterally is futile.  To efficiently build innovative solutions, ICM Falk is approaching its partners collaboratively, across sectors, for co-impact.  We are convinced that we can do a lot with a little when we combine forces - not just financially, but technically and experientially.  

Further bolstering these circular, upstream, local and co-impactful solutions across various verticals -  whether tourism, fashion, F&B and the like - are the foundation horizontal efforts of public awareness building, consumer behavior change and connecting global solutions with local practitioners and policymakers all seeking to move the needle towards systems level change.

The path to resilience

The pandemic has highlighted our systemic inefficiencies - our level of continued reliance on single-use plastics packaging, our underdesigned waste management systems and an overall lack of sufficient movement for the systems level change.  We know that there is no silver bullet solution and working alone, no matter how many resources one may have, will not be enough.  But, we know that our journey as a private foundation towards resilience in tackling this issue begins by utilizing the above framework and bringing together our intelligence, with that of practitioners, global corporates and local changemakers.

We call upon potential partners to reach out to us to co-build and co-fund sustainable solutions for systems-level change. Based on frameworks set out by seminal research and institutions long engaged on this issue, all organizations, big or small, have a role to play in transforming our current world into a more resilient and sustainable one. We cannot do this alone - we all have a part to play in building resilience.

Follow us on LinkedIn for ongoing updates on our journey towards Plastics Innovation and Circularity, and to learn about inspiring local and global innovations. You can always reach us at contact@icmfalkfoundation.org or send us a message on LinkedIn.

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About the ICM Falk Foundation

The Ida C. & Morris Falk Foundation is a private, 501c3 family foundation that seeks to support innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership that drives positive, equitable and sustained impact for the world’s communities and ecosystems. Building on the global commitment for the New Plastics Economy, the Foundation is now actively focused on innovative solutions that contribute to the reduction of plastics production, waste and pollution within Vietnam.

New Growth Opportunities by Fighting Plastic Pollution in Vietnam

Plastic waste will outnumber the world’s entire fish population by 2050 unless we do something to address the problem now. (​World Economic Forum, 2016)​ . Today, half of all plastic waste comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, all of which are growing faster than the United States, Japan, and most of Europe. (​UN Environment, 2019​). As a result, nearly 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced globally every year (​UN Environment, 2018​).

With its current GDP at USD 2.7 trillion, ASEAN is expected to become the world’s fourth largest economy by 2030 (​Deutsche Bank, 2019)​ . While this marks a significant opportunity for ASEAN nations to elevate the economic wellbeing of their citizens, the same opportunity will fuel a parallel adverse impact on the environment if progress is left unchecked and unmanaged. 

If current business-as-usual practices continue and plastic waste is left unmanaged, the plastic industry will soon account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption, while plastic waste flowing into our seas will nearly triple to 29 million tonnes by 2040 (​National Geographic, 2020).​ Since current plastics are not biodegradable, nearly 80% of current plastic waste accumulates in landfills and dumps, posing major risks to the environment.​ ​Fishing and shipping industries just within the Asia-Pacific region stand to lose $1.3 billion every year due to plastic pollution in our oceans (World Economic Forum, 2016).

Enter Vietnam & The New Plastics Economy

As of 2018, only about ​20% of global plastic waste​ has been recycled ​(Our World In Data, 2018)​. While Vietnam sits above this average, recycling 27% of its plastic waste, 1.8 million tons of plastic waste continue to be produced by the country annually - the third highest in ASEAN on a per-capita basis (​VnExpress.net, 2019​). Of course, changing these figures will not be an easy feat if changes don’t come at a systemic scale. Without drastic change, we are expected to live with 29 million metric tonnes of plastic waste leaking into the ocean every year. In the System Change Scenario, Vietnam along with other middle/low-income countries will be able to reduce waste by 80% in 2040, at an investment of $600 billion over the course of 2 decades (Breaking The Wave, 2020).

As the problem becomes more visible and tactile both on land and in our oceans, governments around the world, including Vietnam, have begun taking action. Taking a leadership and systemic-change based approach, Vietnam introduced in December 2019 its National Action Plan (NAP) for Management of Marine Plastic Litter with ambitions for:

●  50% reduction of marine plastic waste by 2025; 75% by 2030

●  80% of marine protected areas cleared of plastic waste by 2025; 100% by 2030

●  80% reduction of disposable plastic products at coastal restaurants and hotels by 2025

●  100% ban on fishermen throwing tools into the ocean by 2030

Making these objectives more tangible have been efforts by Vietnam to impose new tax levies on single-use plastics, its revised Environmental Protection Law with the clear objective of guiding the Vietnamese ecosystem towards a more circular model and, eventually leading to a potential ban on single use plastics by 2025

The government has also mobilized the private sector to address the plastic packaging waste problem through the creation of the Packaging Recycling Organization Vietnam, which includes Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsico and local corporations such as NutiFood and TH Group (cafef.vn, 2019). Born in 2018, with goals to scale up waste collection and to recycle the entirety of their packaging waste by 2030, PRO Vietnam is looking at downstream solutions holistically. At the grassroots level, actions have also been embraced by smaller businesses to curb plastic consumption by adopting re-use models and alternatives to plastics such as reusable grass straws, ceramic household objects and other biodegradable materials. Many of these efforts have been bolstered by ongoing public awareness and behavior change campaigns to drive positive consumer activity.

How can a little organization take on a giant problem?

The Circular Economy model explained by the ​Ellen MacArthur Foundation​ provides a viable and cost effective path for all stakeholders, whether small or large, to help nations such as Vietnam traverse a national plan into tangible and long-lasting solutions on the ground (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2020).

In Vietnam, as in any other country, solutions that reduce and reuse plastic waste must also drive overall economic growth. Implementing a circular plastic economy is projected to lead to global savings of $200 billion per year, reduction of greenhouse emissions by 25%, and the creation of 700,000 new jobs by 2040, compared to the current business-as-usual scenario (​Ellen MacArthur Foundation,2020​).

As the Circular Economy model and Vietnam’s plastic waste reduction efforts continue to develop through the aforementioned downstream focused efforts and beyond, the ICM Falk Foundation will be working to compliment these outcomes by shining the light on Upstream Innovations - specifically, those associated with Interventions 1-3 (Reduce, Substitute & Design) noted within the seminal Breaking the Wave report.  The Foundation will support ideas that will effectively participate in Eliminating unnecessary plastics, Reusing produced plastics and Circulating existing plastics (Upstream Innovation, 2020).  By bolstering Vietnam’s capacity to ideate and launch upstream innovations while de-risking the scaling of successful business models, Vietnam’s private sector, research and startup communities shall also have the opportunity to contribute to the issue and develop out-of-the-box products and services, including those associated with packaging materials development and re-use models. 

As a small non-profit organization, we believe that we can do a lot with a little by taking on the role of a funder, facilitator and advocate. Through hyperlocal, locally-developed solutions and a keen understanding of the strategic gaps within the market, we seek to coalesce all organizations, whether small or large, interested in the upstream innovation space within Vietnam.

For more information regarding our work to promote Plastics Innovation and Circularity, send us an email at contact@icmfalkfoundation.org or a message on our LinkedIn page.