News

November 14, 2019

UNEP Report Finds ASEAN in Need of Comprehensive Approach to Plastic Pollution

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report that examines policies and standards on packaging waste in 10 Southeast Asian countries. UNEP released the report at SEA of Solutions 2019, a partnership week convened by SEA circular, an initiative from UNEP and the Coordinating Body on the Seas of Easy Asia (COBSEA), with support from the Government of Sweden.

The report highlights the importance of solving plastic pollution challenges in Southeast Asia to solve the global marine litter problem. More than half of land-based plastic pollution in the oceans originates from five countries, four of which are in Southeast Asia, underscoring the importance of focusing on this region to address marine plastic pollution. In addition to the environmental impact of this pollution, marine plastic costs the region US$1.3 billion annually in the tourism, fishing and shipping industries. UNEP’s Regional Coordinator for Chemicals and Waste, Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, stressed, “If we want to solve the marine litter problem globally, we have to solve it in this region.”

The report titled, ‘The Role of Packaging Regulations and Standards in Driving the Circular Economy,’ reviews the development of packaging waste policies and standards in the ten Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. The review finds a few areas where countries have made “policy inroads”, such as in Indonesia and Malaysia, but notes that the implementation and enforcement of these policies is incomplete or limited. The report concludes that efforts in the region are fragmented and “no single country has a comprehensive approach towards packaging and packaging waste.”

The report concludes that efforts in the region are fragmented and “no single country has a comprehensive approach towards packaging and packaging waste.”

In contrast, the report showcases plastic policies in the EU and Japan, a region and country that have led policy intervention efforts within their jurisdictions. The report finds three consistent themes in the policy efforts in the EU and Japan. First, they have a hierarchy of various potential and existing interventions. The EU waste hierarchy, for instance is, prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling, other recovery, and disposal. Second, they set national targets and include targets for stakeholders in the packaging and packaging waste value chain. Third, both the EU and Japan promote a circular economy and a life cycle approach to packaging. These policy structures, standards and regulations are contributing to a reduction and recovery of packaging materials in the EU and Japan; the report states that the key principles inherent in this packaging policy landscape are “relevant regardless of the national context” and could therefore be applied in Southeast Asia.

The report recommends harmonized, pan-ASEAN policies to help countries in the region tackle plastic pollution, including alignment on targeted materials and packaging types, such as single use plastics and recyclable plastics; alignment of definitions for what constitutes reuse, recycling and recovery; and alignment on packaging labels, especially for products with transboundary consumption or disposal. The report further suggests the ASEAN region develop an inter-ASEAN trade in packaging and scrap packaging material and create shared technology hubs to promote recycling and recovery, and monitoring of the trade in plastic waste.

Also as part of efforts to tackle plastic pollution, UNEP is highlighting the presence of plastic litter and microplastics in  bathrooms around the world. In November, UNEP is inviting individuals to scan their products using the ‘Beat the Microbead’ app to identify which of their products contain microplastics. Consumers can then choose to switch to plastic-free packaging, where possible, and demand plastic-free products and materials from the industry as part of the global movement to Beat Plastic Pollution. [UNEP Press Release] [Publication Webpage] [Publication: The Role of Packaging Regulations and Standards in Driving the Circular Economy]