Disruptions to the global supply chain caused by trade disputes and COVID-19 have now been joined by those stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions. All these factors have affected the global circular economy, according to panelists at the 2022 CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (CESG) event.
Panelists said travel and trade difficulties have spurred a sense of self-sufficiency in many nations, but examples of cross-border cooperation still are not hard to find.
“While you want to ensure resilience, you have to look at regional and international cooperation at the same time,” commented Amy Khor, Singapore’s Minister of Sustainability and the Environment.
As one example of that, vendors with displays in the CESG exhibit hall included manufacturers or distributors of technology originating in Belgium, China, Germany, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom and several other nations.
Panelist Yutaka Shoda of Japan’s Ministry of the Environment said the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region in which Singapore sits serves as an example of transboundary recycling cooperation. He said the ASEAN-Plus Three (the three being China, Japan and South Korea) economic cooperation effort has included funding for recycling and landfill diversion projects in ASEAN nations built at a scale to attract transboundary shipments.
United Nations staff member Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, of Thailand, said that while local community outreach is crucial to successful recycling, as an effort scales up it is important to consider that “other countries may have found a good solution already.” Collaborating and learning, she said, “is transboundary in nature.”
Professor Seeram Ramakrishna of the National University of Singapore said that while self-sufficiency can be “highly tempting,” larger efforts such as diverting mixed plastics and funding a chemical recycling plant can require “economies of scale that lead to importing or exporting.”
Wang Tianyi of China-based waste services provider Everbright Environment Group said larger nations such as China and the United States can turn inward for circular solutions, but smaller nations will continue to benefit by seeking “win-win outcomes” that involve cooperation with other nations.
Robert Metzke, head of sustainability for Netherlands-based multinational firm Philips, said designing products for recyclability and with “smart material choices” will continue to provide a way forward, as will refurbishment and other options leading to a longer life cycle for products.
Ramakrishna said of global efforts to decarbonize and circular economy activities, “We tend to think of them as separate, but they’re interrelated.” The materials science researcher said 23 percent of global emissions are created by materials supply extraction and manufacturing activities.
Session moderator Frederick Teo of Singapore state-backed investment firm Temasek said no one solution will let the world turn down the global thermostat. He said the ongoing collection of attempts and efforts, even if criticized as “not substantial” by some parties, need to move forward. “Try not to let perfect get in the way of good enough,” he remarked.
CESG 2022 was held in mid-April at the Marina Bay Sands Singapore Convention Centre.