Innovation diffusion process of the German’s green technology for preventing plastic waste – and its applicability to Thailand

Our visiting researcher at the Oeko-Institute Office Freiburg is Napaporn Yuberk. She is the Advisor and National Coordinator for the CAP SEA project based in GIZ Office Bangkok, Thailand. She writes about her thoughts on Germany’s innovation diffusion process.

In my perception, Germany has been a frontrunner in developing many technological innovations. These technological innovations have been the building block of its economic strength in the global markets. I am interested in understanding the diffusion process of Germany’s green technological innovations abroad, including Thailand! 

Back to 18 years when I did the thesis that applied the Innovation Diffusion Theory (Everette Roger, 1962,1995). I discussed why Thailand’s Research & Development projects, funded by the government, cannot reach the commercialization stage (i.e., why are they not able to diffuse widely)? I reviewed five variables that usually make a higher rate of innovation adoption among the users respectively general public. These variables include the following:

  1. characteristic of innovation,
  2. type of innovation-decision,
  3. communication channels,
  4. nature of social system,
  5. extent of change agent’s promotion effort.

      In addition, Roger’s Diffusion theory explains that there are five groups of people who adopt a new technological innovation during a certain time frame. The first group is the innovator which is only 2.5 percent of the society. These people are open to trying new things and are the change agent. The second group is the early adopter who is normally 13.5 percent of the society and enables the rate of innovation adoption of the third group to become the early majority (34 percent of the society). Altogether, the innovators, early adopters, and early majority are 50 percent of the innovation adoption. The fourth group is the late majority (34 percent) who normally adopt the innovation slower than the others. But they are faster than the fifth group (last) which is the laggard (16 percent of the society).

      For more reading about my thesis, please visit the publication “In support of innovation management and Roger’s Innovation Diffusion theory” here.

      Circular Economy principles for preventing a Single-Use Plastic and packaging

      At present, I have been working for the project “Collaborative Action for Single-Use Plastic (SUP) in Southeast Asia (CAP SEA)” that is part of the Global Programme on Export Initiative for Green Technologies, funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV). CAP SEA supports the counterparts in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to prevent plastic waste by adopting the Circular Economy principles. The focus of the project is on Single-Use Plastics and packaging. So, I would like to understand the green technological innovation diffusion process in Germany in the field of plastic waste reduction. As a visiting researcher at the Oeko-Institut, I see a window of opportunity to discuss success factors, challenges and pitfalls of Germany’s plastic waste reduction policies and take lessons learnt for the policy development in Thailand.

      Scoping the discussion and contextualize of “What German’s green technological innovations have diffused during the decade and recently?”  “Why did the innovators and the early adopters in Freiburg decide to adopt the green innovations?”

      From my perception, green technologies have the aim to promote the protection of

      1. environment and biodiversity,
      2. public health from for example, hazardous substances, dangerous goods, air pollution,
      3. climate.

      For the product innovations in the field of plastic waste reduction, I am really interested to explore the innovation diffusion process of a reverse vending machine for collecting the used plastic and glass bottles. When I go to the supermarkets, I see the reverse vending machine in every supermarket. I see many customers put a few plastic bottles and glass in the machine and receive a small piece of paper from it. The customers just present the small paper to the receptionist at the payment point and get cash and/or a discount on the purchase cost. I would like to understand the logistical and political requirements behind establishing a Deposit-Return-System to test its feasibility in the context of Thailand.

      For the service innovation, the reduction of single-use plastics in food & beverage industry using “Reuse packaging as a Service” as a business model is of particular interest to me. The restaurant and coffee shop provide options for customers to choose their food and beverage container – either the single-use plastic container or a reusable container. I have heard about the German start-up company that is a service provider of reusable containers. They serve the container to the signed-up restaurants/coffee shop, collect the containers for cleaning, stock the clean containers, and circulate the clean containers to the sign-up restaurants/coffee shop. In this regard, example of practical business models, such as that of the company VYTAL  shows  that such models can get a higher rate of adoption in a short period. We have discussed such a model during the CAP SEA Dialogue Series.   

      Furthermore, according to the presentation from Freiburg Municipality at the CAP SEA dialog series, I have learned that several start-up companies are running this kind of service in the food & beverage industry in Germany. I realize that this type of company is a fast-growing business in Germany. I have found a nice story from this article.  At present, the Freiburg Municipality has commissioned these start-up companies for running the reusable (returnable) in supporting the municipality’s zero waste target.  The new system operated by the municipality’s contractor is running.   I would like to interview the experts from Oeko-Institut and the Freiburg municipality office to learn how do they monitor several single-use plastic reductions in response to the reuse as a service operation in the city. Wow, this is amazing story from my practical learning! I would like to get my first-hand experience with this service innovation!

      Getting back to my question at the beginning: Why do people in Germany adopt the aforementioned product and service innovations?

      I believe that the innovation diffusion theory can apply to single-use plastic prevention technologies and innovation management in Thailand. From upstream to downstream of the plastic waste management hierarchy, we know that a reusable system is the cheapest cost of waste management technology. It doesn’t require a million EUR investment in infrastructure, but it is about to change consumer behaviour to adopt the new way of using the food and beverage container. Instead of single-use plastic which is one-time use and thrown it away in the bin, the early adopters change their container choices from a single-use plastic to reusable food and beverage containers from a service provider (start-up company). This is such a service innovation. Referring to the Vytal company, they have expanded their services in many cities of Germany for example, Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Bonn, Dresden, Tübingen, as well as Paris in France and Vienna in Austria. I assume that the innovators and early adopters in Germany are using this service innovation.  I would be interested in testing the five variables of innovation adoption, taking the example of reusable service systems.

      The five variables of innovation adoption can guide me to find the answer as above mention “Why do people in Freiburg, Germany adopt the aforementioned product and service innovations?”.

      Relevance of Plastic Waste Impact on Human Health and Biodiversity

      I think that the innovators and early adopters are the type of people who put high values on environmentally friendly and healthy lifestyles. Since several publications explain the impact of plastic waste and pollution on land and marine ecosystems, the innovators and early adopters are keen on changing their daily behaviour to contribute towards saving the planet! However, many linkages between the impact of plastic waste and hazardous substances present in the plastic products on biodiversity and human health are not yet well understood in my country. I would be interested in learning how Germany’s thinktanks and policymakers are working together to create an awareness on communicating the link between human health, biodiversity and plastic waste.   I am interested to learn more about the proof of concept on biodiversity aspects in product policy instruments, such as ecolabelling schemes like “Blue Angel” and Green Public Procurement in Germany.

      Napaporn Yuberk is the Advisor/National Coordinator for the CAP SEA project based in GIZ Office Bangkok, Thailand.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and a master’s degree in Technology Management. She has over 20 years of work experience in environmental management and development issues covering climate change and biodiversity, disaster risk management, pollution control, cleaner production for the industry as well as mainstreaming gender, people with disabilities, and innovative policymaking. She is now the visiting researcher at the Oeko-Institute Office Freiburg, Germany.

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