Korean Startups Step Up The Upcycling Game

StartUp City | Sunday, February 20, 2022

Waste tech startups in South Korea are turning waste into valuable resources and commodities, helping the country mitigate climate change and move towards a more sustainable future.

FREMONT, CA: According to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries of South Korea, about 140,000 tonnes of ocean debris were collected in 2020. This equates to around 7,000 garbage truck loads of waste, however, the exact volume of marine waste is unknown. Deep-sea debris accounted for 13.2 per cent of the total, with the balance collected on the ocean's surface and land. When marine debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean, it becomes more expensive and harder to identify and remove. Pollutants that have been broken down, such as plastic particles, are consumed by marine creatures and eventually by humans, who are at the top of the ocean food chain. 

The goal of the waste-to-value company is to create a complete cycle of maritime waste management processes. The 'Floating Barrier,' a line-shaped floating device that captures all kinds of trash, including discarded fishing nets, urban and industrial wastes, and enormous buildups of debris from natural disasters, is erected in waterways where there tend to be big accumulations of garbage. To stay in place, the gadget is attached to the river's bottom, with one end secured to the bank to avoid being washed away by currents. The device's size has been optimised to reduce its environmental impact. Waste is automatically transferred to a small garbage bin attached to the barrier's fixed end, which is equipped with transmitters and sensors that send signals to Foresys when the trash bin is full. The Floating Barriers are currently in use in the lower and upper sections of the Suyoung River in Busan, South Korea, and are expected to be installed in the Geum River in Chungnam Province, where the provincial government is concerned about marine protection following accidental oil tanker spills in its waters. Towards the end of the year, the floating barrier solution will be exported to Indonesia.

AMEIS, an AI-powered image processing tool, detects and analyses the trash collected. Plastics such as Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene (PE), and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) are separated for upcycling and undergo an ultrasonic pre-treatment process before being upcycled into high-quality plastic pallets. These tiny pallets are utilised as raw materials in the production of battery packs for electric vehicles by major Korean automakers, as well as loading pallets used by logistics businesses, which are typically composed of solid wood and plastic. Businesses can meet their carbon reduction goals by using reused products. Discarded fishing nets are repurposed as 3D printing filaments. Steel bars (also known as rebars) reinforcing concrete will be replaced by 3D-printed fibres, lowering carbon emissions and resolving 3D concrete's steel reinforcement compatibility difficulties. Oyster shells, which are frequently wasted in massive amounts in South Korea, the world's second-largest oyster producer, are recycled and used in the 3D concrete.

Other loops must be closed to effectively prevent climate change, one of which is the food supply chain. The upcycled food sector in South Korea is booming, with significant growth potential, despite shifting public opinions toward and against upcycled food products. In recent years, the food and beverage industry has been under increasing pressure to reduce its carbon impact. According to a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2019, the global food system is responsible for nearly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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