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Aussie boost to recycling in S'pore

MONEY IN JUNK: Adopting the concept of a circular economy has global environmental and economic benefits.


EVER wondered what happens to products that are returned to the store, whether it's due to manufacturing defects or simply because buyers could not find a use for them?

If unsold, they usually end up in landfills, and contribute to increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Australian waste management company TIC Group, which began in 1989 as a garment hanger re-use programme, is seeking to change that through its efforts to boost the global circular economy.

TIC's asset recovery business opened its first international marketing office in Singapore in January this year, expanding its recycling business to target Asia and Middle East customers. It manages more than 15 million products from retailers across Australia every year and sources speciality products from Europe, Asia and the US.

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Products range from clothing to electronic goods, and include end-of-line stock and customer returns, which are common in Australia.

TIC's asset recovery business finds new buyers and markets for its sourced products, selling them at a fraction of retail prices.

Retailers that TIC works with include household hardware chain Bunnings Warehouse; department stores Target and Myer; and German supermarket chain Aldi.

According to TIC asset recovery business development/export manager Gary Mamouney, 50 per cent of products collected are in working condition and 90 per cent can be "recovered or fixed".

The Singapore office, TIC asset recovery business's global trading hub, allows potential buyers to view and purchase the products for resale in their country, the company said.

It serves as a vital link between TIC's Australia headquarters and its trading partners in Asia and Middle East.

"It is much more convenient for traders from countries like Malaysia, Pakistan, and Myanmar to come to Singapore than to fly to Australia," Mr Mamouney says, highlighting that the Singapore office has opened up new business opportunities for TIC.

Traders from Myanmar, for example, are forming unprecedented partnerships with TIC, which is headquartered in Melbourne.

The new trading hub based in Singapore has also benefited traders such as Ausin International, a Singapore company which purchases pallets of products from TIC.

Ausin International refurbishes the products, such as kettles and portable audio speakers, before reselling them in nearby countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia, explained its director Alan Chan.

While TIC does not currently source products from Singapore retailers, Mr Mamouney does not rule out that possibility in the near future.

He admits that the company's recycling efforts are limited by the public's consumption patterns, but says that "the best form of recycling is to reuse".

"We can't do much to reduce manufacturing, but we can change how products are reused," Mr Mamouney says.

Adopting the concept of a circular economy - where products at the end of their lifecycles are used again and again to create value - has global environmental and economic benefits.

A 2015 report authored by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment found that adopting circular economy principles could allow Europe to create a net benefit of 1.8 trillion euros (S$2.74 trillion) by 2030, twice the benefits seen on the current development path.

The study also showed that average disposable income for European Union households could be increased by 11 per cent, or 3,000 euros, which would translate into an 11 per cent GDP (gross domestic product) increase by 2030.

Carbon dioxide emissions could be halved and cost of time lost to congestion would decrease by 16 per cent in 2030.

The same report led to the adoption of the EC Action Plan for the Circular Economy in December last year, which opened up 24 billion euros of existing finance to circular economy businesses.

There are currently no statistics on benefits of the circular economy for Singapore. However, there are several local companies which actively promote and facilitate the circular economy.

One of them is Remex Minerals Singapore, the first metal recovery facility locally, which was launched last December. It recovers metals such as iron, steel and copper from incinerated rubbish, helping to extend the lifespan of Singapore's only landfill, Semakau Landfill.

Closed-loop recycling uses waste materials to produce new products without changing the properties of the materials, unlike open-loop recycling or downcycling, which utilises recovered materials that have suffered a degradation in material quality.

One multinational company that has embraced closed-loop recycling is Dell. The computer technology firm has established a closed-loop supply chain to get the most out of plastics used in its products.

When its electronic products get recycled, the plastics are sorted out from the metal components. They undergo an upcycling process that involves melting and remoulding into new parts.

Wilson Ang, executive director of charity Global Compact Network Singapore, which promotes corporate sustainability, said that greening operations could be a cost-saving move for companies.

Corporations stand to conserve resources, minimise wastage, improve efficiency and potentially reduce employee turnover, he adds.

Chief executive of Biodiesel maker Alpha Biofuels Allan Lim says that greening of operations is "not just about recycling", but also about other aspects such as the use of green energy, highlighting Ikea as one company that has embraced environmentally friendly operating practices.

"In Singapore, the awareness of closed-loop recycling and upcycling is still limited," Mr Lim adds, noting that the end-to-end greening mentality is still lacking in the corporate mindset, as the environmental consciousness often takes a backseat to profit margins for most companies.

Recently, real estate company CapitaLand announced efforts to encourage its tenants and shoppers to recycle their e-waste, which includes computers and personal communication devices.

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