by Ellen Putri Edita and Hendro Putra Johannes • 2 march 2022

2 March 2022: Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), and the IGES Centre Collaborating with UNEP on Environmental Technologies (CCET) today co-hosted the second ERIA’s Experts Working Group on Marine Plastic Debris meeting.

On the very same day, the Committee of Whole in United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) has agreed to establish an international negotiation committee on legally binding plastic pollution control. This ground-breaking agreement however requires critical inputs from experts from various disciplines to be put into effect. With experts from a diverse set of disciplines, the working group assists the establishment of baselines and offers a multidisciplinary assessment of marine plastics in the ASEAN+3 Member States.

Mr Michikazu Kojima, Senior Advisor of ERIA, proposed ways forward for the working group, including coordinating with ASEAN Working Groups, updating the status of extended producer responsibility (EPR) of the ASEAN+3 Member States, and proposing some additional indicators for marine plastic research for the region.

Dr Vivek Anand Asokan, Policy Researcher of IGES, delivered some updates on the draft paper of “Building Data on Plastic Value Chain in the ASEAN Member States.” For the paper to move forward, experts will be called upon to make specific contributions to providing better material flow analysis, building standardized methodology on leakage estimation and calculation on plastic intensity of products, and designing relevant economic and policy instruments based on life cycle perspective.

Dr Youna Lyons, Ms Cheng Lim, and Ms Yulu Liu from Centre for International Law (CIL) of National University of Singapore (NUS), presented their research on the Regional Research Inventory (RRI 2.0). The inventory shows several findings, such as the shoreline sediment and water surface being the most frequently sampled in terms of plastic debris surveying/monitoring, and plastic size categories being not consistent across all studies, with nano plastics and mega plastics least examined.

‘We need more layers added to the research. It has to be refined. We keep looking at what we could do better and how we could push the data to do more things,’ said Dr Lyons.

Treating Plastic as Commodity, Rather Than Waste

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty, Principal Research Scientist of The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), spoke about marine plastic debris and its impacts in ASEAN+3 region. In her presentation, she emphasized that the socio-economic factors are more important in determining the amount and types of waste that are lost into the environment. She explained that hotspots can only be determined once we establish cold spots in juxtapose, and rigorous field sampling is essential to confirm any assumptions.

‘It would be a fundamental game changer when we start to put a price on plastic and treat it as commodity, rather than a waste,’ concluded Dr Hardesty.

Dr Yasuhiko Hotta, Programme Director of Sustainable Consumption and Production of IGES, proposed a new workstream entitled “Post COVID-19 Economy and Single-use Plastics.” This workstream highlights the trend of single-use plastic consumption during COVID-19 outbreak and how such trend affects the circular economy implementation in selected ASEAN member states.

The meeting also discussed the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and its Global Plastic Outlook report, which was just published by the end of February. Dr Hotta mentioned that the report contains full-scale overview of lifecycle impacts of plastics and analysis of COVID-19 impacts on plastic production and consumption.

Meanwhile, Mr Dwight Jason Ronan, Senior Officer of Environment Division of ASEAN Secretariat, provided an update on the ASEAN Environment Knowledge Hub and the possible collaboration with the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris (RKC-MPD) of ERIA. The collaboration may include creating an online link of the centre from the hub, regular sharing of information on marine plastic issues, and organising knowledge events and developing communication products.

In his closing remark, Dr Vong Sok, Head of Environment Division and Assistant Director of Sustainable Development Directorate of the ASEAN Secretariat, stated that it was fundamental for the working group to connect the dots and analyse the data information to become more robust.