Single-Use Plastic Ain’t Fantastic
198 billion plastic bags are used in Thailand per year. Incredibly, that equals eight plastic bags per person per day. 90% of all plastic waste is not recovered (when including disposal in open uncontrolled landfills). And we have only just begun to more fully understand the negative impact plastic has on nature, animals and humans.
(It should be noted that Thailand is far from the only country flooded in plastic waste. According to the German Environment Agency (UBA), the per capita use of plastic packaging in Germany is well above the European average, while microplastics have even reached the Arctic.)
At Impact Hub Berlin, we believe that the change can’t happen in isolation but only through collective action. In partnership with the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), commissioned by the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Ministry for the Environment (BMU), we assembled a diverse group of European and Thai companies, start-ups, NGOs, policy-makers and researchers for the 8th lab of tomorrow challenge on plastic waste reduction in Thailand.
The lab of tomorrow is an open innovation process based on Design Thinking and Business Design methodologies. It invites stakeholders from the private and public sectors to co-create and incubate business solutions to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The process is user-centred, meaning that solutions are continuously tested with the target group.
Before jumping into solutions mode, the first step is always to understand the problem. To do that, we took the following steps:
- Holding framing workshops with experts at the Plastic Free World Conference in Frankfurt and in Bangkok. We discussed the challenge of single-use plastic and formulated seven sub-challenges such as food delivery, packaging and tourism.
- Undertaking user research on the ground in Thailand alongside GIZ Thailand and InsightPact. We followed the plastic trail to supermarkets, malls, restaurants, street food vendors and markets. The team talked to over 35 people, aiming to understand what drives behaviour, what makes plastic so ubiquitous, and why it is so hard to avoid.
- Commissioning desk research and phone interviews with key stakeholders, with the support of Öko-Institut.
The Innovation Workshop
Imagine a room of over 60 participants from different nationalities, industries and backgrounds, all loudly playing Rock Paper Scissors. This was the beginning of our four-day innovation workshop in Bangkok.
Each sub-challenge was assigned a group of 6-8 participants made up of senior managers and intrapreneurs at corporations such as Coca-Cola, TUI and Central Group, as well as start-up founders, foundations, and policy advisors at the Thai Pollution Control Department. All groups had a designated Design Thinking coach at their side.
We wanted to find not only solutions that could reduce, reuse or recycle single-use plastic, but also to create sustainable business models so that the ideas could thrive in the long term.
Solutions were created, thrown away, recreated and iterated. Our teams went out into the Bangkok heat to test their ideas with people in the street. One created a prototype of a packaging-free rice vending machine out of paper. Others wrote mini-plays to showcase their innovations to the high-level jury watching on.
Six out of eight teams made it into the subsequent test phase, with two teams merging midway through. The goal of this phase was to further test the desirability, feasibility, viability and sustainability of each solution with the remote guidance of Impact Hub Berlin coaches. Again, the teams tested, researched, iterated, laughed, iterated again.
One team, Greenrise, found two major partners to source the rice for their packaging-free vending machine. Happy Cup questioned 200 users about reusable cups. Green Loop quickly brought new team members on board while WaYste to Success received feedback from hotel managers on their sustainability consulting offers. Greenuse engaged a group of students to design and 3D-print reusable food delivery containers.
The teams have now applied to receive further support to implement their pilots.
Our Key Findings
- Behaviour in Thailand is already changing. In a survey launched by one team, 65% of participants indicated that they are already carrying reusable cups.
- But policies are badly needed… The plastic challenge can neither be tackled solely through business solutions, nor by waiting for consumers’ behaviour to change. We need policy regulations. Bans and disincentives will not only send a message, but also open up business opportunities to accelerate change.
- …and they are starting to arrive. Thailand’s cabinet has already passed the Roadmap on Plastic Waste Management, 2018-2030. This consists of banning certain types of plastics in phases and having all remaining plastics 100% reusable by 2027.
We look forward to the lab of tomorrow teams continuing to rise to the challenge.
Contact the Impact Hub Berlin consultancy team to find out how we can help your organisation spark solutions to the world’s toughest problems.