Vientiane, 23 August 2023: A unified and comprehensive contribution from all parts of society, including the private sector, is necessary to effectively reduce plastic pollution in Lao PDR, speakers said at a seminar.
Multiple businesses in the country are addressing the issue of plastic at different stages of the life cycle, thereby ensuring that plastic is not only prevented from leaking to the environment but also reduced from its source.
As such, phasing out short-lived and single-use plastic products while also advancing waste management could help in achieving the targets of the upcoming National Plastics Action Plan (NPAP) for Lao PDR (2023-2030).
These comments were delivered at a seminar, entitled ‘Upstream and Downstream: Plastic Waste Management in Laos’, organized by the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris of ERIA and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) of Lao PDR, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment of Japan (MOEJ) and the ASEAN Secretariat.
The event was held at the National Convention Center (NCC) in Vientiane on August 23rd2023, at the occasion of the ASEAN-Japan Environmental Week.
‘Waste management system in Lao PDR still suffers from insufficient waste collection that is still limited to a few areas. As a result, most plastic waste is disposed by means of open dumping and open burning along the road and riverbanks,’ said Ms Palina Khotphouthone, Deputy Director of Environmental Policy Division, Department of Environment of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE).
She then pointed out that the country did not have specific policy instruments for the management of plastic waste at the national or local level, and that enforcement was yet to be strict.
‘For this reason, the government initiated the formulation of the NPAP in 2022 and set it to be enacted this year,’ she added.
Among others, the action plan encouraged the involvement of private sectors through activities such as collaborative awareness-raising campaigns, voluntary extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes, and promotion of the use of eco-friendly products.
Boosting the reuse of plastic alternatives
Although Laos is a landlocked country, there has been a growing concern over marine plastic debris among the people as Mekong River, one of the most polluted rivers in the world, acts as one of the main pathways of plastic waste into the ocean.
Ms Valy Phommachak, co-founder and director of Econox Laos, said that to reduce the amount of waste flowing into the river, we could start with initiatives in reducing the consumption of single-use plastics (SUPs).
‘The Plastic Free Laos Label by Econox certifies green businesses in hospitality areas that are committed to reducing SUPs. We provide training and advice as well as partnership with green suppliers for members,’ she said.
In addition to this, the ‘Rent Your Cup’ service by Econox Laos further help members in reducing their SUPs consumption by providing rentable cups to customers.
‘Customers can rent a reusable cup for a period of time and then return it to any cafes, restaurants, or hotels within our network,’ she added. In response to the forthcoming National Plastics Action Plan (2023-2030), Ms Phommachak confirmed that she welcomes it, and would be willing to collaborate with the government side for an effective implementation.
Driven by the aspiration to preserve the natural world and support the local community, Ms Arounothay Khoungkhakoune, founder of Bamboo Lao, engaged with the local people of Luang Prabang to produce bamboo straws as a substitute for single-use plastic straws.
Launched at the Mekong Tourism Forum in 2017, Bamboo Lao produced more than 50,000 straws in its first year and successfully displaced the use of over five million plastic straws.
‘We believe that through Bamboo Lao, we are not just contributing to the reduction of plastic waste but also empowering local community by providing sustainable economic opportunities for them’ she said.
Improvement of Waste Management
Mr Souksavanh Phengpaseuth, Manager of Lao Kayama, said Lao’s rapid economic and population growth had resulted in an increasing waste generation throughout the country. However, waste management facilities including for medical waste are still inadequate.
‘We introduced Japanese waste management system for medical waste which uses incinerators. By using this, not only are we detoxifying infectious waste, but also reducing plastic leakage into the environment,’ he said.
‘Our service has also expanded to industrial waste management,’ he added, citing how Lao Kayama was collaborating with the University of Laos to implement a system which separated waste and crushed it before processing it into fuel, in the form of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), for the cement factory.