The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Food Industry Asia (FIA) on the 23 of June released a regional survey of consumers and food and beverage businesses across South-East Asia that shows a significant disconnect between expectation and action on reducing plastic waste. The challenges of plastic pollution have only increased in the past few months, with the COVID-19 pandemic generating a surge in waste.
The survey polled consumers and businesses in five countries that are estimated to be among the top 10 sources of plastic marine debris globally – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam.
“Plastic pollution is choking the waters of South-East Asia,” said Dechen Tsering, UNEP’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “We will need fundamental change throughout the plastic value chain to achieve clean seas and beat plastic pollution. Governments, businesses and consumers can all increase their ambition and improve their efforts to achieve this goal.”
Among the key findings were that:
- Consumers are concerned about plastic waste, but are not changing habits. While 91% of consumers state that they are concerned about plastic waste issues, fewer than half are less likely to buy a product from non-recycled material.
- Consumers’ focus on recycling is increasing. While only 54% of consumers are recycling and converting their plastic waste into useful products, 38% more have indicated their interest to do so in the next 12 to 18 months.
- Businesses understand that their current efforts are not sufficient. While 82% of businesses are extremely concerned about plastic waste issues, less than half feel their current efforts are sufficient to address the problem.
- Targets by businesses on plastic waste need strengthening. 80% of businesses have targets to address plastic waste but of those companies with a target, less than one-third communicate it externally. Among business targets to reduce plastic waste, 74% are quantitative but only 59% have indicated deadlines.
- Many businesses are not yet engaged in industry collaborations to tackle plastic waste issues. Over half of businesses (51%) in the five countries are not part of any group tackling plastic waste issues. This ranges from 76% in Viet Nam to 24% in Thailand.
- Both consumers and businesses want and expect further action by governments. Consumers and businesses recognise that governments are concerned with plastic waste. Key actions by government considered most critical include mandating waste segregation, enhancing collection systems, ensuring consistent labelling on product recycling, and imposing littering fines and charges.
The surveys were conducted from January to April 2020 in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, sampling 2,000 consumers and 400 food and beverage businesses across the five countries. Efforts were taken to ensure that the sample covered a wide range of companies across the value chain, company ownership structure, company size and locations within the countries, while quotas were instituted to ensure accurate demographic representation of the consumers. A similar survey will be conducted in 2022 for comparison.
“We are encouraged that companies have been much more involved in coming together to support cities and communities in a significant way to tackle post-consumer plastic waste by accelerating packaging innovation and enhancing plastics collection and recycling, through initiatives like the Circular Materials Lab and the Packaging Recycling Organisation Viet Nam,” said Matt Kovac, Executive Director for Food Industry Asia. “But as the surveys show, many more businesses need to join platforms to scale up efforts. Policies, projects and funds must work concurrently, as must key actors across the plastics value-chain to build a multi-stakeholder approach that enables businesses, consumers and governments to find ways to create circular approaches to plastics.”
This survey and report were co-commissioned by SEA circular, an initiative of UNEP and the Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) – supported by the Government of Sweden – and FIA to inspire market-based solutions and encourage enabling policies to prevent marine plastic pollution in South-East Asia. The analysis was conducted by AlphaBeta.
The Swedish Ambassador to Thailand, Lao PDR and Myanmar, Staffan Herrström, said, “This study provides valuable insights that can help accelerate the behavioral change needed to beat plastic pollution and prevent marine litter. Importantly, it shows that opinions among consumers and businesses provide ample opportunity for governments to take tangible, effective actions, such as promoting waste segregation at household level, improving waste collection and recycling capacity, and ensuring better product labelling, all of which will increase recycling rates. This can be pursued through a combination of regulation and incentives, and I encourage governments to use this opportunity.”