Visionaries

“We Have Already Managed To Pollute Over 80 Percent Of Our Oceans — Imagine The Next 70 Years!” — Roland Wee

The co-founder and executive chairman of RWDC Industries wants to eliminate single-use plastics.

“We Have Already Managed To Pollute Over 80 Percent Of Our Oceans — Imagine The Next 70 Years!” — Roland Wee
Roland Wee, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, RWDC Industries

With the launch of its single-use plastic alternative biopolymer Solon last year, RWDC Industries has become the Singaporean startup to watch. RWDC is led by Roland Wee, a respected veteran mechanical engineer who has designed and built bioprocessing and chemical plants for large global companies in the Asia-Pacific region. Solon has been certified by TUV of Austria to be biodegradable in fresh water, soil and marine environments. Production begins in 2020 at its 4,000-tonne-a-year pilot facility in Georgia, US.

The world can be a better place for future generations

“I co-founded RWDC Industries with Dr Daniel Carraway, who is a brilliant scientist and inventor, when I was 71. Both of us were boy scouts and as good scouts, we wanted to do our best for posterity. We promised we’d build a robust team to fulfil our dreams. I am 75 now. I have had a successful career as an engineer and a businessman, and RWDC continues to kindle my passion. Plastics have only been around for as long as my lifetime, but we have already managed to pollute over 80 percent of our oceans — imagine the next 70 years! We want to help put a stop to this, and we see commercialising a safe, sustainable and cost-effective alternative as most urgent now.”

Plastic alternatives aren’t all the same

“Many plastic alternatives today are not truly biodegradable. The most commonly seen is polylactic acid (PLA); it is compostable, hence degrades under conditions of high heat and humidity, but is not naturally biodegradable.

If PLA escapes the waste collection system and ends up in the natural environment, it takes almost as long as conventional petroleum plastics to degrade. Another ‘biodegradable’ material is known as ‘oxo-fragmentable’, where plastic contains heavy metal additives to make it fragment into small particles. This worsens the problem by creating microplastic, which is almost impossible to retrieve or remove!”

His company developed Solon as an alternative for single-use plastics used in straws and utensils

“Should Solon escape the waste management system, it breaks down into carbon dioxide and water in natural environments, in the presence of microbes and bacteria in compost, fresh water, soil and seawater. Petroleum plastics, on the other hand, are indestructible and take centuries to degrade into microplastics, which can get into the human body.”

Plastic will still be around

“It is not possible to be rid of plastic and plastic waste completely. Plastic is so prevalent in our lives because of the barrier properties, durability, availability and the convenience it has brought to modern lives. Annual global production of plastic is over 300 million tonnes and single-use plastics account for approximately half of global plastics usage. So we are trying to replace only single-use plastics such as paper cup coatings, food packaging, cutlery, bottles, wet wipes and diapers.”

This story is part of a series on Singapore’s modern visionaries. To read others in the series, click here.

This story first appeared in the January/February issue of A Magazine.

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