While browsing through the ICM Falk Foundation website I came across an intriguing infographic: the image is of instant-noodle seasonings wrapped in some sort of transparent film – reportedly the properties of which include, amongst other usual functions of food packaging, edibility. Made out of biodegradable materials and given the name EdiFilm, the product has been designed by five students from HCMC University of Technology; together, they formed a team that has now advanced to the final round of this year’s Bách Khoa Innovation competition, while also hailed by ICM as “Circular Hero[es]” – those championing the causes of upstream innovation and circularity in Vietnam.
It turns out thinking about quotidian matters such as instant-noodle packaging is a good way to illustrate seemingly-macro concepts such as upstream innovation and circularity: creative intervention has been added by the EdiFilm team to the product-design stage so that all packaging – when eventually submerged with noodle into boiling water – can wholly dissolve and be consumed; at the same time, the process mimics nature’s circular ways – how most things disintegrate and get absorbed into other things and help advance the biological life cycle (here, I think of another ICM Circular Hero: a student group called The Blastic making bioplastic products such as plant nursery bags, which literally decompose in soil and help fertilise that soil).
Granted, dissolving plastics, edible food-wraps and the circularity concept in general might be quite well-researched and present in facets of everyday life elsewhere, but in Vietnam they remain a rare phenomenon.
This is where support organisations like ICM Falk Foundation enter the scene. A private family foundation originating in the US and following their own outcome- and evidence-based strategies, ICM has been active in Vietnam since 2020 to help solve the country’s climate-change and environmental issues through local-centric solutions. The Blastic and Edifim are two of the groups/organisations that have received support from ICM to bring their products past the ideation phase.
The presence of a circularity discussion at VFCD 2021, then, is a timely occurrence that echoes the Festival’s “Creative Future” thematic – in this instance, the “creative” part signifies the level of innovation and the sense of imagination involved; and “future”, because as yet the substantial wealth of potential and ideas remain under-tapped.
“The average student has many good ideas regarding circularity, but they lack that ‘infamous’ combination of funding and networking opportunities. It’s really about how you can rethink business models and consumption. We try to find ways to help them turn a moderately developed/tested model into a proper venture, an actual business that can be sustainably scaled.” – said Tiphaine Pham, Strategic & Program Advisor of ICM Falk Foundation.
Ahead of the talk ICM is hosting at VFCD 2021 alongside Behalf Studio, I chatted with Tiphaine about the state of circularity in Vietnam, the stakeholders, the biggest potential and challenges, and the range of support the organisation has been providing.