8 November 2022, The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) in collaboration with the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) co-hosted the Third ERIA’s Experts Working Group on Marine Plastic Debris hybrid meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia. This meeting aimed to follow-up on the recommendations from the previous meetings, namely identifying data availability and gaps on the plastic value chain in ASEAN Member States, understanding the trend of plastic pollution during the pandemic, exchanging views on the increase of plastic pollution, and gathering knowledge from experts from different backgrounds to formulate relevant recommendations. The meeting was also an occasion to discuss policy-relevant outputs of the working group for the year 2023.
In his opening remark, Dr Vong Sok, Head of Environment Division and Assistant Director of Sustainable Development Directorate, ASEAN Secretariat expressed his encouragement and support for the working group which he regards as fundamental to building new insights and practical solutions for the marine plastic issue.
‘Digital technology could be put to full use and the ASEAN Secretariat will continue to support the process to create synergistic actions,’ he added.
Meanwhile, Ms Junko Nishikawa, Director for Sustainable Infrastructure, Office of Director for International Cooperation for Transition to Decarbonization and Sustainable Infrastructure, Ministry of the Environment of Japan highlighted the Ministry’s intention to support data-driven policy making in the region. While admitting that the knowledge of each expert from the working group is valuable on its own, Ms Nishikawa stressed that by bringing together researchers from diverse scientific backgrounds, this platform can provide cross-disciplinary collaboration for the benefit of the region.
Dr Vivek Anand Asokan, Policy Researcher at IGES explained that in developing countries, plastic pollution faces several challenges, such as lack of coordination, knowledge, data, infrastructure and formalisation. The multi-stakeholder partnership is considered as a solution to address the uncertain and complex plastic pollution issue. Hence, the World Economic Forum initiated the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) as a central platform to create tangible actions against plastic pollution.
At a smaller scale, GPAP has a national-level platform called National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP) that works with the national government and partners. So far, NPAP has been run in Ghana, Indonesia, and Viet Nam. In his closing, Dr Asokan laid out several important hurdles to overcome to tackle marine plastics effectively, including the involvement of local governments and the informal sector as well as financial support.
Ms Natalie Harms from COBSEA Secretariat delivered a presentation about the implementation of COBSEA Regional Action Plan on marine litter. Ms Harms explained that COBSEA is developing The Regional Node of the Global Partnership of Marine Litter with a web platform that includes a plastic pollution research database. She expressed her hope that the web platform can be linked to ERIA’s RKC-MPD ongoing work in the same vein. She also added that COBSEA and ERIA can create MoU to expand the knowledge in the region as well as avoid duplication of work.
Meanwhile, Dr Guilberto Borongan, Director, Regional Resource Centre for Asia and the Pacific at Asian Institute of Technology (AIT RRC.AP), made a progress report on AIT’s research on the development of technical guidelines for plastics and resin pellets leakage. Dr Borongan mentioned explained that the research is being conducted in six ASEAN cities: Hanoi, Iloilo, Manila, Nonthaburi, Pattaya, and Vientiane. Currently, he is leading a scoping exercise, data collection, and analytical work to understand the architecture of the plastic waste and recycling landscape in the target cities.
The session was followed by a presentation by Dr Youna Lyons, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore. Dr Lyons explained that she and her team have so far developed a database, consisting of 700 articles that focus on marine plastics. Ultimately, she aims to provide a source of integrated knowledge on MPD research that should fit into the ongoing COBSEA work and ASEAN Action Plan to strengthen the regional knowledge network.
Dr Mongtoeun Yim, Deputy Head, Environmental Science Department, Royal University of Phnom Penh continued the session by explaining the current severe condition of plastic pollution in Cambodia. ‘All kinds of waste are mixed and disposed to the landfill without precautions and treatments,’ Dr Yim deplored.
According to Dr Yim, Cambodia is implementing an approach to reduce and recycle plastic waste by involving the development of policies and regulations, promotion of awareness raising, and engagement of the stakeholders to promote the 4R program.
Dr Vu Dinh Heiu, Deputy Director, Vietnam Institute of Seas and Islands (VISI) shared Viet Nam’s experience to address marine plastics. In his presentation, he explained that the country is using five policy instruments to implement the National Action Plan by 2030. The five instruments are command-control tools, economic instruments, technical tools, communication and education tools, and plastic lifecycle policy.
Dr Muhammad Reza Cordova, Researcher at Research Center for Oceanography, the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) in Indonesia, presented his recent studies on marine microplastics in the country. Dr Cordova explained that the limitation of available expertise, compounded with divergence in terms of terminology, guidelines, reporting tools, and method that are employed pose some challenges in monitoring the microplastics.
‘Harmonization of monitoring methods on a global level will be key to successful data collection and analysis,’ he said.
Mr Michikazu Kojima, Senior Advisor at ERIA proposed the most suitable indicators to assess plastic pollution in the ASEAN region. He divided his proposed indicators into five main categories: production/consumption, recycling/disposal, leakage to the environment, impact on the ecosystem, and collection from the environment. He invited inputs from the experts and requested them to keep sharing their feedback to fine-tune the indicators. Mr Kojima hopes that the indicators can be further developed to formulate a policy brief to be shared at the regional level.
Dr Chen Liu, Research Manager at IGES delivered a presentation on her ongoing research work regarding the increase of single-use plastics and food waste caused by COVID-19. Through her research, it was found that the plastic waste from municipal solid waste generation, which used to be around 2 tons per day has increased up to 3.4 tons in Bangkok. This finding was similar to what was happening in Hanoi, where the use of single-use plastic at the household level increased during the pandemic.
Lastly, Dr Atsushi Watabe, Programme Director at IGES shared his progress on the application of the behavioural insights project for single-use plastic reduction in ASEAN+3 cities. This project aims to understand the effective behavioural insights which can nudge the citizen’s decision-making toward a more sustainable one. He explained that an open call for project partners will be published soon, and restaurants, schools, community centres, and tourist sites will be targeted as survey sites. The project will continue until the end of 2023.
Future work on UNEA 5.2. and OECD on Plastics in Asia
Dr Yasuhiko Hotta, Programme Director, Sustainable Consumption and Production at IGES, referencing the UNEA 5.2 resolution (Nairobi, Kenya March 2022) which agreed to establish an internationally legal binding instrument by 2024 to end plastic pollution, suggested that the working group should provide recommendations for the ASEAN Member States in the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) meeting expected to be held next year. As a response, Mr Michikazu Kojima added that the working group can provide viewpoints on unique regional challenges and propose topics that should be covered in the new treaty.
Finally, Dr Hotta announced that the OECD, in collaboration with IGES and ERIA intends to work on Plastic Outlook’s report focusing on the Asian region. The Asian version of the OECD’s “Global Plastics Outlook” will contain a strong data-based explanation of the status quo, the projections of plastic production and consumption patterns in the future, and possible policy approaches for a transition to circular approaches. The report which is expected to be published by 2024 will be presented to the ASEAN Secretariat as their flagship policy recommendation for the region.
‘We welcome the experts to engage in the development of this report by contributing with your knowledge and expertise,’ he said.