MANILA, Philippines — Southeast Asian countries need to put in place stronger regulatory frameworks and innovative methods in the plastics value chain to reduce plastic waste, according to the World Bank.
In a World Bank blog post, World Bank Chief Operating Officer Axel van Trotsenburg and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi said the region has become a hotspot for plastic pollution in the middle of the region. rapid urbanization, rising middle class and lack of infrastructure for waste management.
According to experts, half of the top 10 countries that contribute to plastic leakage into rivers and seas are located in Southeast Asia.
In Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, World Bank studies found that more than 75% of the material value of recyclable plastic, worth $6 billion, is lost each year when single-use plastic is thrown away instead of being recovered and reused.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the consumption of face masks, sanitizer bottles, online delivery packaging and other single-use items has increased, compounding the plastic waste problem.
As plastics are produced mainly from fossil fuels, experts said the growing demand for such plastics is also intensifying the climate crisis.
“If no action is taken, greenhouse gas emissions from the production, recycling and incineration of plastics could represent 19% of the total emissions allowed under the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming by 2040 to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Reducing plastics therefore has a critical climate co-benefit,” the experts said.
Industry and governments, they added, are aware of the problem and what needs to be done to reduce annual plastic leakage into the ocean by around 80% below projected levels by 2040.
“But to be able to do its part, Southeast Asia needs stronger regulatory frameworks, more innovative business models and a wider range of financing mechanisms,” they said.
As countries in the region share rivers and coastlines as well as markets for plastic products and waste, they said collaboration would be needed.
There are calls within ASEAN to regionally harmonize standards for recycled plastics, as well as technical requirements for plastic packaging and labelling.
This is because initiatives to come up with smart plastic designs to help minimize waste and facilitate reuse or recycling are sometimes impeded by confusing and varying regulations, standards, certifications and labeling in different countries.
Along with harmonizing standards, experts said efforts should be made to educate consumers on the issue to enable them to make conscious and sustainable choices when shopping.
In order to design products that help minimize waste, they also said innovation will be needed throughout the plastics value chain. This involves the use of new alternative materials, sustainable packaging, innovative technologies and new types of financing.
Last month, the World Bank approved a $20 million grant to support ASEAN actions to address the problem, including strengthening and harmonizing policies that govern the production and use of plastics in the region.
“Despite becoming a hotspot for mismanaged plastic waste, the region is determined to reverse the trend,” the experts said.