A girl sharpens her pencil using a repurposed Coke bottle given away in Vietnam through Coca Cola's 2nd Lives campaign. Image: Oglivy&MatherChina.

US Companies Addressing Waste through “Upcycling” in Asia

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In recent years, some US companies have been addressing waste management practices in Asia through a process known as upcycling. The practice involves recycling materials in such a way to give the end product a higher value than the initial product. In addition to helping meet the needs of economically disadvantaged regions, upcycling also helps reduce the amount of waste entering landfills.

This past January, the Ford Motor Company and Redress, a Hong Kong sustainable textile non-profit, co-sponsored the Redress Forum: Ford Design Challenge. Coinciding with Hong Kong’s Fashion Week, 10 up-and-coming fashion designers transformed Ford’s leftover vehicle fabric into high-end fashion apparel. This event increased awareness around the topic of waste in the textile industry, and how fabric can be repurposed into new garments and accessories.

Last year, Coca-Cola launched an upcycling campaign in Southeast Asia. Called the 2nd Lives Campaign, Coca-Cola issued 40,000 screw-caps with the purchase of its drinks in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand. These caps increased the versatility of the bottles, transforming them into 16 different products, such as pencil sharpeners, paintbrushes, bubble wands, and more. Coca-Cola wants to spur innovation of how to upcycle its products and hopes that this campaign will jumpstart that process. Repurposing not only reduces the amount of plastic garbage in Asia, but also plays into cultural traditions of limiting waste.

New Jersey-based Terracycle is also working to reduce waste in the Oceania region by recycling materials traditionally deemed unrecyclable. The company first pays consumers to send them their “unrecyclables,” which then become manufactured products Terracycle sells. Consumers have an additional incentive because Terracycle also donates to consumers’ charities of choice for participating in their collection program. In 2013, Terracycle started work in New Zealand by partnering with Mondelez for a chocolate wrapper collection program. They have since expanded into Australia, collecting cigarette butts that will be put to use in a recycling and composting program.

Looking at the successes of these three companies, it is hoped that more US firms will demonstrate similar leadership and creativity in tackling waste issues, both in Asia and at home.

Nina Geller is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.