Bulletin: The UN Plastic Resolution & APAC
Each week, Weber Shandwick’s APAC Intelligence Bulletin shares the key developments shaping business sectors and markets throughout the Asia Pacific region.
- At the recent United Nations Environment Assembly, representatives of 175 nations endorsed a historic resolution to end plastic pollution
- The resolution includes a commitment to forging a legally binding agreement between nations by 2024
- The resolution plans to tackle the full lifecycle of plastic pollution by targeting standards of plastic production, plastic disposal, and existing plastic pollution
- The pandemic has significantly accelerated rates of plastic pollution, with consumption of single-use plastics estimated to have risen by up to 300%
Asia has a complex relationship with plastic pollution. Western government authorities have previously positioned Asian countries as chiefly responsible for ongoing plastic pollution, in spite of subsequent studies identifying the US as producing more plastic waste than any other nation. The Pacific Islands, meanwhile, contribute approximately 1% of the world’s annual plastic pollution – but are subject to the most significant consequences.
By virtue of scale, Asia represents some of the biggest plastic polluters in the world. China, Japan, and Pakistan have all featured in recent assessments of the top plastic polluters worldwide. However, Asia also features substantial public policy leadership in combatting plastic pollution. One of the key principles of the UN’s resolution, to adopt immediate voluntary actions to minimise plastic waste, was heavily driven by India’s representatives.
The Indian government has already implemented multiple legislative initiatives to combat plastic pollution, including banning the manufacture and sale of single-use plastics, and banning the import of plastic waste. The Chinese government unveiled similar initiatives last year, increasing fines for solid plastic waste offences tenfold, banning plastic bag production, and increasingly recycling rates for agricultural plastic waste to 85%.
In general, plastic pollution legislation has been increasing within Asia. Japan’s government implemented multiple major pieces of legislation in 2021, including new laws requiring businesses to source 60% recycled plastics. The government of Thailand has committed to increasing recycled plastic rates to 50% by end of 2022 and to 100% by 2027. In 2020, Indonesia committed to cutting marine plastic waste by 70% in five years.
The pandemic acceleration
The Asia Pacific region faces two key obstacles in combatting plastic pollution. Firstly, many nations have previously relied on exporting or importing plastic waste. Thailand, for example, imported over 250,000 tonnes of plastic waste in 2021. The practice of importing and exporting waste means many nations have to deal with many thousands of tonnes of legacy waste and/or develop new waste disposal infrastructures.
Secondly, plastic pollution has significantly accelerated with the pandemic. The Solid Waste Association has estimated that single-use waste consumption grew by between 250 and 300% worldwide over the last two years. The World Medical Health Organisation has estimated that 89 million plastic masks were used per month at the height of the pandemic, with many ending in the world’s oceans.
The pandemic acceleration has emphasised the importance of plastic pollution reduction. Aside from the profound environmental and climate impacts (with plastic pollution, if viewed as a country, being the world’s fifth-largest contributor of carbon emissions), studies have increasingly confirmed that plastic pollution is having adverse health impacts on populations around the world, with microplastics recently found in the human bloodstream.
A need for innovation
With such a rapid escalation of plastic pollution and an existing challenge of widespread legacy waste, many markets will be relying on new technological innovation to adhere to the UN resolution (and eventual agreement). The Australian government, for example, has recently invested US$1.5 million in a startup developing a ‘plastic-eating’ enzyme. The Philippine government, similarly is encouraging concrete producers to recycle plastic waste into raw concrete materials – with claims it would reduce national plastic waste by up to 60%.
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This briefing was prepared by Weber Shandwick’s Insight & Intelligence team in Singapore.
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