The four-country study is the first of its kind to be performed by an Asian industry body. It found that scale ‘is an issue’ in the four countries, as current initiatives only mostly had impact on a micro (50.8% impact on average) to small (15.3% impact on average) level when addressing the waste issues facing these countries.
The findings suggest that current areas of effort focus may not be aligned with the largest impact areas, and feasibility varies significantly with impact.
High-impact efforts such as the establishment of materials recovery facilities and innovative packaging designs were acknowledged as showing the ‘right focus’. However, up to 30% of efforts were classified as ‘missed opportunities’, meaning these have large potential impact but are not getting much focus.
These included hazardous dump site replacements, waste import limitations hauler system optimisation and waste exchange programmes.
According to the study, more focus should be placed on ‘plugging leakage in post collection efforts, implementing stricter import limitations and constructing new landfills’.
The researchers identified 31 potential levers across four areas to support sustainable packaging. Of the four areas, the area of enhancing collection rates for after-use plastics dominated focus, with 15 levers (littering fines, dump site bans, new sanitary landfills, etc.) surrounding this.
Also, the researchers suggest that an integrated approach is needed to tackle waste issues, with particular focus on certain levers.
“The top 15 levers account for about 90% of the potential impact. Largest impact levers include Material Recovery Facilities, New landfills, Optimisation of hauler systems, Replacement of hazardous dump sites, Waste exchange programmes, and Increased collection services,” reported the study.
Collectively, the four countries studied contribute to 25% of all plastic marine waste.
“We recognise the role that the food and beverage industry must play when it comes to accelerating change in this area. […] We are fully committed to driving change in Asia and look to join discussions on this issue with industry, governments and other key stakeholders,” said Edwin Seah, Head of Sustainability and Communications, FIA.
Plastic bag bans have minimal impact
Plastic bag bans are a particularly common government initiative in dealing with plastic waste, and have been implemented in many countries like Australia and Malaysia.
Unfortunately, the study has found this measure to be ineffective in terms of impact.
“[Plastic bag bans do not] rank in the top 10 levers in any of the four countries,” said the study.
“Possible reasons include ineffective enforcement and monitoring approaches, lack of education amongst consumers and businesses, and relatively small share of plastic bags vis-à-vis other plastic packaging.”
Other key insights
Landfills and import limitations were found to be particularly important for all countries, especially in light of China’s bans on waste imports.
“There have been significant increases in plastic waste entering the Southeast Asian markets (e.g.
Vietnam experienced a 65% y-o-y increase) [since China’s ban]. Given the general lack of robust waste management and treatment systems in these countries, it is crucial that the local governments restrict the flows of plastic scrap imports.”
“Replacing hazardously located landfills and establishing new landfills is important in all countries, particularly in the short-term, as technologies for reuse are still gaining scale to make them commercially viable,” it added.
In the Philippines, waste transportation was found to be a major gap, and the study called for authorities to look to technology to resolve this issue.
“A large share of plastic marine leakage in the Philippines [is found] in post-collection, as such it is crucial to ensure that there are no further preventable leakages from the transportation of waste. This could be achieved by having stricter monitoring, installation of GPS and surveillance camera systems, as well as providing incentives for compliance.”
The study also called for the scaling up of partnerships in order to streamline and coordinate efforts.
“There is a range of actors in this space, but little coordination with no shared sense of what matters and what doesn’t. To streamline efforts, third-party organisations can play a coordinating role.”
“There are often many government agencies looking into waste management in countries in Asia (e.g., Public Works, Energy, and Environment). Their policies might be conflicting and create confusion amongst consumers. Furthermore, enforcement is less effective without a dedicated taskforce.”
“Furthermore, plastic waste reduction requires a multi-pronged approach. […] Initiatives need to be locality-specific (country, region, and municipality).”