Denpasar, 24-25 May 2023: The fourth meeting of ERIA’s Experts Working Group on Marine Plastic Debris concluded by urging the development of standardised methodologies for material flow analysis of plastics and monitoring plastic pollution in the environment. The experts agreed that this would support the reporting for implementation progress of the upcoming international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution that has been discussed by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC).
In her opening remarks, Dr Noriko Tamiya-Hase, Deputy Director of the Office of Policies against Marine Plastics Pollution, Ministry of the Environment of Japan highlighted the role of the experts working group in improving the understanding of the current situation of plastic pollution in the ASEAN region.
‘With sufficient data and analysis, the group can formulate the best way to tackle the marine plastic debris issue for each Southeast Asian country with its own different sets of challenges,’ she said.
Dr Suphaphat Kwonpongsagoon, Associate Professor at Mahidol University, Thailand, said that to develop effective measures, it is crucial to identify the root causes of pollution through a material flow analysis (MFA) on the whole life cycle of plastic. However, the accuracy and reliability of MFA depend greatly on the quality and quantity of available data, which are limited and unstandardised in most cases.
Moreover, understanding local context is essential when quoting data for MFA to make sure that it is relevant and comprehensible on a national, regional, or global scale, according to Dr Amila Abeynayaka, policy researcher from the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES).
He pointed out the need for a comprehensive waste management policy that prioritises MFA, which would ensure a complete data collection of plastic production at upstream to its management at downstream.
Monitoring of Plastic Leakage into Aquatic Environment
Another objective of MFA is to connect the sources, pathways, and the final sinks of a material, which in the case of plastics, entails its leakage into the aquatic environment. There are a number of innovations to monitor the flow of plastic leakage into water bodies, including the use of floating devices such as drifter and bottle tracking that mimic the movement of plastic debris.
Professor Suchana Chavanich from Chulalangkorn University, Thailand said such devices have been used in Thailand, in addition to the interceptor deployed at the Chao Phraya River by The Ocean Cleanup to monitor the number of waste flowing in the river and further reduce its leakage to the ocean.
Meanwhile, Japan also uses high-resolution mapping of macroplastic and microplastic emissions from the land into the sea. The results, as presented by Professor Yasuo Nihei from Tokyo University of Science, showed that higher emissions were observed from urban areas including Tokyo metropolitan area, Nagoya, and Osaka.
‘We believe that our methodology can also be employed to evaluate plastic emissions in ASEAN region. Considering sufficient data including geographical data of the water basin and waste management data, are available,’ he said.
Of all the plastic waste in aquatic environment, some may end up in biotas when it is mistakenly digested. For this reason, Mr Michikazu Kojima, Senior Advisor at Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), together with Dr Yet Yin Hee, marine science expert supporting ERIA’s Regional Knowledge Centre, proposed the development of monitoring and assessment methodology using bioindicator.
‘We have been seeing cases of plastic ingestion and entanglement of biota throughout the news, and we think that it is important to develop a standardised methodology for biota survey that is relevant and applicable in ASEAN region to assess the impact of marine litter,’ said Dr Hee.
Also read: Data, Policy, and Financing Must be Harmonised to Tackle Marine Plastic Pollution: OECD Regional Dialogue
Interventions on Plastic Consumption
To reduce the amount of plastic leakage, the experts emphasised the importance of closing off the tap through interventions at consumers’ level.
In the interest of insights on consumer’s behavioural change, Dr Chen Liu, Research Manager of Sustainable Consumption and Production at IGES, evaluated the impact of COVID-19 on the use of single-use plastics (SUPs) in ASEAN households. The result showed that in the Philippines, there was an increase in SUPs use especially for disinfectant and plastic packaging due to increased online food delivery.
‘However, we observed varied changes in other locations. For instance, there was a decrease of use in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for plastic bottles and plastic shopping bags. This led us to conclude that the pandemic brought a positive impact in reducing household SUPs in low-income countries and a negative impact in middle-income countries,’ said Dr Liu.
Building on the gathered knowledge, a project on the Application of Behavioral Insights Approaches for Plastic Reduction is implemented in four cities of ASEAN under a collaboration between ERIA and IGES. Dr Atsushi Watabe, Programme Director of Sustainable Consumption and Production at IGES said they would develop a toolkit for reducing SUP in cities and communities, followed by a workshop based on the results from this project to further scale up behavioural insights.
The Regional Plastics Outlook
Interventions to consumer’s behaviour are becoming more essential as plastic waste is projected to quadruple in South and East Asia in 2060, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) entitled ‘Global Plastics Outlook’. This report provides a comprehensive assessment of the current state of plastics production, utilization, and waste generation and uncovers the economic factors driving these trends.
To dive deeper into the case for Southeast Asia, ERIA together with the OECD and IGES is developing The Regional Plastics Outlook that is going to evaluate the unique plastic policy challenges within this region and explore potential approaches to address them.
‘We are currently in the phase of data collection for the modelling, and we will greatly benefit from collaborations with experts in this working group,’ said Dr Ruben Bibas, an economist-modeler at the Environment Directorate of the OECD.
According to the OECD, ERIA and IGES team, the report, which will also assess the environmental impacts of ‘business-as-usual’ leakage of plastics, should be published by the end of 2024.