A sea of opportunities

Countries in Asia are beginning to recognise and take on board the gravity of plastic pollution in our oceans. This may create new opportunities for Norwegian enterprises and technology.

This was the message at a webinar held by NOSCA Clean Oceans on 26 April. An audience of some 40 members followed the online event from Norway, and on the other side of the world were five representatives from Innovation Norway ready to brief on the situation in South East Asia.

– Marine plastic is an “ownerless” problem where crucial information is not readily available. Hence, it has been important to get Innovation Norway to highlight challenges in Asian countries. We see a market for technology emerging, where our members have an opportunity to contribute, says Eirik Langeland, leader of NOSCA Clean Oceans.

From rivers to oceans

Gari Pareek, based in India, lead on the gathering of information on the subject. She was also one of the five Innovation Norway representatives each presenting facts and figures from their respective countries, and talked about the opportunities for export of Norwegian technology.

India is one of the worst offenders in terms of plastic pollution. An estimated 90% of waste ending up in the world’s oceans can be attributed to ten large rivers. Two in Africa, and the remaining eight in Asia – including the Ganges and Indus in India.

Pareek talked about increased engagement among the young and various initiatives supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), but warned that that there is a long way to go before any changes are made to the way in which hundreds of millions of people living i densely populated areas handle their waste.

Aspirations in Vietnam

Innovation Norway’s representative in Vietnam talked about similar issues, where large amounts of pollution stream into the South China Sea via the Mekong Delta. The country has 99 million inhabitants who are major consumers of plastic products, in particular bottles and packaging.

Recycling is limited, but the authorities aspire to achieve a 75% reduction in plastic pollution by 2030. There are already several projects underway in which Norwegian organisations, such as Norad, Sintef and Avfall Norge, are involved.

Opportunities in China

Also China has sizeable rivers contributing to pollution on a large scale, and has a vast coastline littered with plastic waste. As this is becoming more of a pressing an issue for the state and local authorities, collaboration with private companies is now on the table. Innovation Norway is well positioned with excellent contacts that may provide access to project funding opportunities.

The Chinese are also in the process of recording the movement of marine plastic along their coast with the aim to find locations ideal for clean-up operations using vessels. This is an interesting initiative that may prove an opportunity for the use of Norwegian technology.

Affected by pollution

The presentations by Japan and Singapore highlighted the vast differences between Asian countries, both in size and in wealth. These two strong economies cause limited pollution, but are badly affected.

Japan has realised that addressing the marine plastic problem requires international collaboration, and has launched a number of public and private sector initiatives. This may present business opportunities for Norwegian companies.

Although small, Singapore is also a country with great ambitions for a more circular future. Covering an area about the same size as Hitra, it is a powerful financial, research and technology centre, and serves as Asian headquarters for numerous important organisations.

Innovation Norway’s representative, Per Christer Lund, presented the country as a gateway to a far larger market.

Assistance at hand

– I believe that Asian nations will place significant focus on the plastic waste problem going forward. It is an issue that is high on the agenda in every country, says Lund, who recommends that NOSCA joins existing Norwegian business networks in the region. This is an area where Innovation Norway’s division in Singapore can be of assistance.

According to Lund, access to reliable data in the efforts to map the demand for Norwegian services and technology in the region has been challenging.

– There are numerous plans and strategies in place in the various countries, but to determine what can be realised it is not always easy. In Singapore, however, everything is very transparent. Data is easy to obtain, and everything is in English.

Virgin market

The webinar confirmed that good ideas are welcome, from groups as well as individuals. I am convinced that a market will emerge in South East Asia, but there is still a lack of clarity and organisation in the individual countries, says Eirik Langeland.

– There is a lot of talk about preventive measures, and this is great. However, there is also increasing awareness of the plastic waste already in our rivers and oceans. For many of our members, this is the perfect challenge.

(Facts & figures)

NOSCA’s webinar on plastic pollution in South East Asia

 – Held on 26 April 2021.

 – Briefing by five representatives from Innovation Norway: Lien Phuong Dang in Vietnam, Michal Louis Berg in Japan, Per Christer Lund in Singapore, Qin Shi in China, and Gargi Pareek in India.

 – Some 40 people attended the webinar, which lasted for about one and a half hours.

 – A detailed report is available to NOSCA’s members.