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  • Writer's pictureRayki Goh, MSc

Have you heard of ‘Magorium’? And, Is Charging Shoppers 5 Cents Per Bag Really a 'Waste' of Everyone's Time?

Japan and Singapore are leading the fight with cutting-edge strategies and technologies. With Japan's alarming plastic waste crisis and Singapore's innovative approach to repurpose plastics, how can these efforts measure up in the grand scheme of sustainability, and what lessons can we draw for a plastic-free future?


The environmental harm of urbanisation

The research for this article was based on information from JapanToday.com, which focused on the environmental impact of single-use plastic waste from food packaging and the progress made in addressing this global challenge. For the original story, please refer to the further reading section.

 


Dear Food People,

 

HELP! We are literally drowning in plastic waste and I'm not being melodramatic because mercury is currently in retrograde.


Can anyone recall when the anti-straw movement took off? It started in 2011 with Milo Cress, a 10-year-old who launched the "Be Straw Free" campaign. Here's the link to the video clip to refresh your memory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtAjIU4-ffI (courtesy of CNN).

 

Cress's research showed that the U.S. used about 500 million plastic straws daily, drawing significant attention, and he was concerned about the waste plastic straws generate. Since then, we've become much more aware of single-use plastics and are striving to minimise their use. When marine biologists reported that plastic waste was affecting turtles, the push gained even more momentum.

 

So, after 13 years of continuous advocacy, it's worth examining how far the nag has pushed societal progress, no?

 

My research led me to a January 31st, 2024, article stating that Japan is facing a severe plastic waste crisis. Japan is second only to the United States in plastic waste production per capita. In 2014, this amounted to 32.4 kg per person. The country's packaging practices contribute significantly to this issue, with fruits, vegetables, and other items often wrapped in multiple layers of plastic. However, Japan is actively seeking solutions. They boast a 93% collection rate for PET bottles and an 85.8% recycling rate as of 2019. However, only 22% of the collected plastic undergoes traditional recycling. Japan either burns the rest or sends it to other countries. Japan once shipped about 820,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste annually to Southeast Asian countries, but these nations are increasingly rejecting such imports, exacerbating Japan's waste management challenges. Experts are calling for Japan to adopt more innovative solutions and policies to address oceanic plastic waste. While local governments have begun banning single-use plastics, a national strategy is necessary for substantial impact.

 

The Japanese government has introduced the Plastic Resource Circulation Strategy, emphasising the 3 Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—plus renewable resources. This initiative aims to foster a more sustainable society by promoting the use of recycled materials and bioplastics. Additionally, the National Action Plan for Marine Plastic Litter focuses on preventing plastic waste from reaching the ocean. Japan is also developing legal frameworks for environmental protection and waste management, collaborating with businesses to ensure recycling and regulatory compliance. Public awareness campaigns like Plastics Smart encourage broad participation in waste reduction efforts.

 

Japan is exploring innovation in recycling technologies and alternative materials, examining every option to reduce plastic waste's environmental impact. However, challenges remain, including recycling complex plastics, high consumption rates, and finding alternatives to exporting plastic waste. Despite Japan's robust strategies, the journey to reduce plastic pollution is ongoing and complex.

 

Compared to other countries, Japan's efforts are notable, especially in PET bottle recycling. However, their overall plastic recycling rate trails behind some European countries, and their reliance on exporting waste has become problematic, particularly after China's import ban. Japan's approach, characterised by ambitious targets and a focus on innovation, signifies positive progress but continues to evolve.

 

Now, let's shift our focus back home to Singapore, shall we?

 

Let's be honest here, charging an extra 5 cents per plastic bag hasn't stopped us from using them. The collection of this additional charge by big supermarket players hasn’t gone to the aid of our helpless marine friends either. This measure merely adds to living costs for shoppers.

In Singapore, repurposing shopping bags as bin liners is a common household practice. Bundling up waste scraps into bin liners helps keep refuse centres more organised and cleaner and reduce pest problems. In other words, we are now paying more just so we could keep our daily waste organised. Given the unavoidable need for disposable plastics in such scenarios, the solution may lie in innovative technologies like those developed by Magorium.


You might have mistaken the said term as Magnum, the ice cream brand because, well, this is a food related content media platform, but no, its 'Magorium'.

 

Oh Chu Xian, a graduate of Singapore Management University, established Magorium with the aim of transforming plastic waste into NEWBitumen, a novel material for the construction of environmentally friendly "green roads." For context, bitumen is a substance produced through the distillation of crude oil.

 

I bet not many people know about Magorium, and neither did I before I wrote this article!

 

Magorium's process involves depolymerizing (meaning to break a polymer down into smaller units of plastic waste), chemically reformulating it to mimic traditional bitumen, and then stabilising it for use in road construction. This technology not only addresses the plastic waste challenge but also reduces dependence on fossil fuels. Magorium has successfully implemented this technology in Singapore, with plans to expand and meet the growing demand for sustainable construction materials. The company's achievements, including being a finalist in the CapitaLand Sustainability X Challenge 2023, underscore the potential of innovative solutions to environmental challenges.

 

Magorium's technology has broader applications, including in asphalt production, roofing, and waterproofing, highlighting the potential for creating value from waste and fostering a sustainable, circular economy. Read more about Magorium here: https://www.mgrium.com/.

 

If you've got your 5 cents' worth to share about plastic waste that is more insightful than the journey of a cheap shopping bag, feel free to drop us a message at me@obsideonmedia.com, and let's keep the conversation going and make sustainability a part of our daily habits together.

 

Also, would you be open to making meaningful changes in your daily routine to minimise waste, such as eating fruit peels or finding methods to extend the freshness of your bread? Check out the articles below in the Related Post section for more ideas.


Further Reading:

  1. BBC. (2022) 'Quitting single-use plastic in Japan', BBC Future. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220823-quitting-single-use-plastic-in-japan

  2. Eco-Business. (n.d.) 'Mindset shift: How a Singapore startup convinced firms that waste plastic can be used to pave roads', Eco-Business. Available at: https://www.eco-business.com/news/mindset-shift-how-a-singapore-startup-convinced-firms-that-waste-plastic-can-be-used-to-pave-roads/

  3. Heinrich Böll Stiftung. (2022) 'Plastic Atlas Asia 2022', Heinrich Böll Stiftung Hong Kong. Available at: https://hk.boell.org/sites/default/files/2022-05/PlasticAtlasAsia2022_en_WEB_0.pdf

  4. Institute for Global Environmental Strategies. (2022) 'Plastic Atlas Asia 2022', IGES. Available at: https://www.iges.or.jp/en/publication_documents/pub/reportchapter/en/12341/PlasticAtlasAsia2022_en_WEB_1.pdf

  5. Japan Today. (2024) 'Japan has a big plastic waste problem', Japan Today. Available at: https://japantoday.com/category/features/environment/japan-has-a-big-plastic-waste-problem

  6. National Environment Agency. (n.d.) 'Reducing Our Use of Disposables', NEA. Available at: https://www.nea.gov.sg/our-services/waste-management/3r-programmes-and-resources/reducing-our-use-of-disposables

  7. Singapore Management University. (2022) 'Start-up Magorium targets $6M in seed funding to build greener roads with plastic waste', SMU News. Available at: https://news.smu.edu.sg/news/2022/12/01/start-magorium-targets-6m-seed-funding-build-greener-roads-plastic-waste

  8. Univibes. (n.d.) 'Over-packaging problem in Japan', Univibes. Available at: https://univibes.org/blog/over-packaging-problem-in-japan/

  9. World Wildlife Fund Singapore. (n.d.) 'Plastics', WWF. Available at: https://www.wwf.sg/plastics/


 

The information provided in our articles is for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The content on our website, including articles, is not meant to endorse or promote any specific medical treatments, products, or procedures. The information provided is based on general knowledge and research at the time of writing. Medical practices and knowledge are constantly evolving, and what may have been accurate at the time of publication may not be current or applicable today.

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