The world’s dependence on plastics, especially single-use plastic items has steadily pushed the amount of daily-generated plastic waste to an all-time high.
One million plastic bottles are bought per minute worldwide, and is expected to reach half a trillion by 2021.
“Avoiding the worst of these outcomes requires more than awareness, it demands a movement. A wholesale rethinking of the way we produce, use and manage plastic,” wrote Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, in The Guardian.
In accordance with this, initiatives are being implemented by various parties in countries across Asia-Pacific. This includes big brands like KFC, Lotte and Nestle, as well as governments.
PepsiCo India, for example, has pledged to introduce 100% compostable, plant-based packaging for several of its snack brands.
“As a responsible leader in the food and beverage industry, our Performance with Purpose 2025 goal is to design all packaging to be recoverable or recyclable, and supports increased recycling of plastic waste,” said Ahmed El Sheikh, president and CEO, PepsiCo India.
Similarly, Nestle has announced global plans to make 100% of its packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025. One of their strategies is “eliminating non-recyclable plastics such as Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), polystyrene and expanded polystyrene,” according to a company statement.
Unilever has an almost identical objective, aiming to make all its plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
These conservation efforts extend to food service companies. KFC restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau stopped providing plastic lids and straws for drinks as of August 23 this year.
“We understand the significance of the impact of single-use plastics has brought to our environment, and thusly we want to do our part in striving for positive change,” said Janet Yuen, chief operating officer, KFC Hong Kong and Macau.
Supermarkets and stores
Five key retail stores in South Korea – Lotte Market, E-Mart, Mega Mart, Homeplus and Hanaro Mart – have also announced plans to reduce the amount of plastic shopping bags used. This was supplemented by initiatives to promote reusable shopping bags, as well as charging for plastic bags.
Two of the top supermarket chains in Australia, Coles and Woolworths, also banned plastic bags in all their stores nationwide.
Meanwhile, packaging-free, zero-waste grocery store Unpackt opened its doors in Singapore in May this year. Owner Florence Tay was inspired by a store with a similar concept in Europe.
“I thought it was a great idea that took a step further when it comes to minimising the use of unnecessary packaging, especially plastic,” she said.
Maharastra, the state comprising India’s capital city Mumbai, instituted a state-wide ban on single-use plastics this year. The country as a whole aims to eliminate single-use plastics by 2022, but is facing daunting challenges, especially pushback from companies, organisations and lobbyists.
In 2009, the state of Selangor in Malaysia started a ‘No Plastic Campaign’, banning the retail use of free plastic bags every Saturday. This weekly ban was upgraded to a daily one in 2017.
Selangor consumers are also charged USD 0.05 (RM0.20) for each plastic bag they opt to purchase from retailers.
This yielded USD 460,000 (RM 1.87 million) within six months from January to June 2017. This has led many to dispute the effectiveness of this campaign in plastic conservation, with consumers continuing to use plastic bags despite having to pay for it.
“There are consumers who were willing to pay RM1 to get five plastic bags,” said Hee Loy Sian, Chairman of the state committee on Environment, Green Technology, Consumer and Non-Islamic Affairs.
In Australia, a senate inquiry is recommending a nationwide ban on all single-use plastics. This comes after the banning of all single-use plastic bags in all but the states of Victoria and New South Wales.
The country’s federal and state governments are also aiming for all packaging in Australia to be reusable, compostable or recyclable by 2025.
Despite the many ongoing efforts, Solheim feels that more still needs to be done: “Let there be no doubt: we are on edge of a plastic calamity. Current projections show that global plastic production will skyrocket in the next 10-15 years.”
Analysts are more positive about the outcome. According to Delon Wang, Trends Manager, Mintel Asia Pacific: “Brands around the world are stepping up efforts to tackle plastic waste problems as a way to demonstrate a clear conscience and their commitment to environmental sustainability.”