EPPIC IG LIVE: Into the Deep with our Challenge Finalists

In order to address the worsening plastic pollution issue in our oceans, the UNDP, in collaboration with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), launched the EPPIC (Ending Plastic Pollution Innovation Challenge) earlier this year. The fierce competition has been narrowed down to just eighteen finalists who will now take part in an incubation acceleration process where they will learn more about the field, meet with industry experts, and receive mentoring in order to take their business to the next level.  

All the challenge finalists have come up with amazing, innovative solutions to end plastic pollution. The Archipelagic and Island States Forum, in collaboration with Marine Debris Secretariat launched their ‘Into the Deep’ Instagram Live Series last week, to get to know the people behind the start-ups.  

For the first session on the 27th of July, Marina Tran-Vu, the founder and the CEO of EQUO shared her business’ story. EQUO is a company that produces biodegradable alternatives to plastic utensils, straws and other daily items. They offer a wide array of products made from different ingredients such as sugarcane, coconut and coffee, which exemplifies their effort to be consumer-friendly and reachable to the wider public. She shared her visions to further diversify their product lines, ultimately offering solutions to all kinds of single-use plastics that threaten our planet’s future. She encouraged the audience to “get started” by making small changes in their daily lives like opting for eco-friendly, compostable alternatives for plastics to promote sustainability.   

The AIS Forum then welcomed Ernest Christian-Layman to speak about his business Rekosistem. Ernest and his team have developed technology that establishes a connection between plastic waste producers and collectors in order to streamline the waste collection process. Their plant can sort and recycle up to twenty different kinds of plastics. Technology is a massive up-and-coming economic sector and it’s great to see start-ups with strong ecological values among these emerging businesses. Ernest answered many queries from the audience about his start-up and offered some insider advice to future entrepreneurs. “If you have an idea,” he advised, “just start”. You never know how things will pan out until you try. To close the session, Ernest reflected on our society’s definition of waste; for him, it’s a matter of mindset – if discarded products can be transformed into something useful, they cannot be classified as waste. 

The next day, we were joined by Zuni Miftakhurrohmah, the Community Engagement Officer of Gringgo. Gringgo provides innovative solutions using digital technology to facilitate the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as through mobile apps and AI technology. Zuni shared the ongoing projects with the audience, including the Google AI Impact Challenge which provides the general public with an easy and fun way to sort waste using AI and the Plastic Reborn project that aims to improve the efficiency of the waste management system in collaboration with the local government. Gringgo puts public engagement as one of its highest priorities when developing their solutions so that their innovations bring about greater impacts to society. Sharing Gringgo’s vision to become a one-stop platform for people to seek for solutions to environmental and social problems, she closed the session by emphasizing the importance of getting started with small changes at home as “imperfect actions from many people drive bigger changes than a few people’s perfect actions.” 

During our final session of that week, the AIS Forum welcomed Karen Cheah and Herbin Chia to Instagram Live to discuss their business Alterpacks. The business model uses food waste from factories to create takeaway containers that can be composted at home. Karen and her business partner Herbin have clearly identified the problems that they want to solve: the excessive food waste and plastic waste that exists worldwide. Their plans are ambitious but both partners displayed such drive and passion for what they do. Karen was frank in her assessment that pursuing a start-up career is not an easy one; you must “park your ego at the door” when embarking on this journey. The two business founders believe in the future of sustainable packaging materials and remarked that it will be “all hands-on deck” to tackle the colossal issue of plastic pollution. 

The Ocean Purpose project joined us to discuss their initiative which aims to tackle marine pollution through multi-faceted, collaborative solutions. Mathilda outlined the personal reasons she had for embarking on her start-up journey; in 2018 she was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition as a result of having bathed in polluted waters. Inspired by these dreadful events in her personal life, she launched the Ocean Purpose project and turned her negative experience into something positive for her community in Singapore. The project is educational and collaborates with schools, religious orders and other social enterprises to drive change. As well as this, Ocean Purpose has designed two innovative solutions to mitigate the effects of plastic waste – the design of bioplastics derived from mussel and seaweed lines and the design of technology that manufactures biofuel from plastics which can then be used in smartphones and electric vehicles. The manufacture of this biofuel from ocean waste has huge potential for growth in South-east Asia.  

The live sessions made for exciting and invigorating discussion on the AIS Forum social media. We look forward to seeing what these businesses will get up to during the incubation chamber and hearing more from them in the future.  To continue our Into the Deep series, Marine Debris Secretariat (@tkn_psl) will host Bintang Sejahtera, Plepah, Evo Co and Sampangan on their Instagram Live. Check out @aisforum and @tkn_psl for details. Stay tuned to go ‘Into the Deep’ with more amazing entrepreneurs!  

For more regular updates on the EPPIC Competition and our work against plastic pollution, like and follow our Facebook page at Ocean or Plastic?

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