by Ellen Putri Edita and Hendro Putra Johannes • 13 July 2020

Jakarta, 13 July 2020: Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) has held an Online Joint Dialogue on Waste Management in the Context of COVID-19 Pandemic. The joint dialogue is a follow-up action to the “Resolution on Establishing AIPA-ERIA Joint Dialogue to Support the Waste management for Sustainable Development”, which was held in Bangkok, Thailand last year. Besides raising awareness about the current and potential issues on waste management derived from the pandemic, the objective of the program is to open discussions with the parliamentarians in accordance with their roles to help mitigating the spread of the virus in their respective countries.

The joint dialogue was started by the opening remarks from Prof Hidetoshi Nishimura, the President of ERIA and Hon. Ms Nguyen Tuong Van, the Secretary-General of AIPA. In their opening remarks, both emphasize that the pandemic should be perceived as an opportunity to create better waste management for long term period as well as to make the waste as a resource.

There were two different sessions in the joint dialogue. The first one discussed about the municipal solid waste because of the pandemic, while the second one discussed about the medical waste. In the first session, Prof Enri Damanhuri from Institut Teknologi Bandung explained the condition of municipal solid waste due to COVID-19 in Indonesia and Japan (on behalf of Mr Michikazu Kojima, the senior economist of ERIA). He observed that the pandemic created changes in people’s lifestyle because more people rely on online delivery services to obtain their daily needs, which frequently come with layers of packaging. As a result, rising amount of plastic waste becomes an inevitable consequence in some cities.

Prof Damanhuri also noted that current protection to huge number of informal waste workers in Indonesia due to COVID-19 is poor because many of them still have to work with the absence of personal protective equipment (PPE). Meanwhile, in Japan, the waste collection workers use mask during work in the pandemic situation. Furthermore, there is a clear instruction to dispose the face masks and items used by those infected or suspected of infection, which can be considered to be a safe manner to reduce the contact between the waste collection workers and the waste.

Prof Damanhuri hopes that the government can give more recognition to the waste management issue by providing proper technology to manage the waste and more financial support, especially in Indonesia where the domestic waste management only receives 0,6% of the total local government budget.

In the second session, Prof Agamuthu Pariatamby from Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development, Sunway University and High-Level End Foreign Expert, and Ministry of Science and Technology, China demonstrated the condition of clinical waste management during COVID-19 in Malaysia.

Prof Pariatamby perceives that the pandemic is highly related with the increase of clinical waste generation, such as disposable gloves, face masks, and PPE. By far, the clinical waste management in Malaysia is regulated under Environmental Quality Regulation 2005. The regulation states that it is highly fundamental to manage the clinical waste properly before disposing it since it might be harmful for the surrounding environment. In this regard, the clinical waste is disposed based on the provided color-coded containers/bags: the blue ones are for the autoclaving clinical waste, the yellow ones are for the waste that goes to incinerators, and the black ones are for the general household waste.

Prof Pariatamby ended his presentation by saying that Malaysia has been doing great in managing the clinical waste form healthcare facilities. However, more attentions for household clinical waste is required to prevent the waste collectors from health risk exposure due to skyrocketed number of disposed face masks.

The last presentation was delivered by Mr Boonsong Kaigate from Parliament of Thailand, who shared the management of infectious waste in Thailand. At the beginning of the pandemic, the infectious waste in Thailand jumped significantly. The number started decreasing in April 2020 since the case of the infected people was also decreasing.

Furthermore, as a response of COVID-19, Thailand prepares three phases of emergency plan to support the infectious waste disposal. Each of them consists of three steps: collection, transportation, and disposal, involving different stakeholders, such as local government, local healthcare, and military units. Mr Kaigate mentioned that the absence of guidelines for household waste disposal becomes an emerging issue in Thailand since it can potentially spread the virus.

The joint dialogue was closed by the closing remarks from Prof. Nishimura. In his closing remarks, Prof Nishimura encouraged communication between countries to share and adopt appropriate measures to overcome the challenges of waste management during the pandemic. He also asked for supports from members of parliament to revise the draft resolution on “Creation of Joint Dialogue between AIPA and ERIA to Support the Waste Management for New Normal amid COVID-19”.