Zero in on Plastics

Building Synergy and Collaboration on Plastics in the ASEAN Member States

by Ellen Putri Edita and Hendro Putra Johannes • 19 November 2021

19 November 2021: 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) co-hosted the SEA of Solutions Back-to-Back Meeting on “Building Synergy and Collaboration on Plastics in the ASEAN Member States: Towards Integrated Solutions to Marine Plastic Pollution.”

The meeting provided an overview of the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris and introduced ERIA’s Experts Working Group on Marine Plastic Debris. It also discussed some recommendations to close the data gaps on plastic research in the region.

Dr Yasuhiko Hotta, Sustainable Consumption and Production Program Director of IGES, on behalf of Mr Michikazu Kojima, Research Fellow of ERIA, emphasized the need to collect more data on which, science-driven policymaking has to develop. He also put forth the new capacity building needs in the region that the Regional Knowledge Centre can facilitate.

‘The policy itself is changing. It is not just about the government policy anymore. A more collaborative approach to the policy formulation that engages with the industries, consumers, and citizens is needed,’ he explained.

Dr Vivek Anand Asokan, Policy Researcher of IGES, presented the plastic data gaps in the ASEAN region and suggested five ways to address those gaps:  (1) build existing capacity and collect data on production and waste management; (2) build new capacity on consumption and waste recycling; (3) establish scientific knowledge and new capacity on leakage to environment and ocean; (4) determine relevant indicators for monitoring and assessment of policy objectives, through benchmarking with existing indicators in EU, Japan, and China; and (5) link marine plastics with other relevant issues like urban flooding.

The panel, composed essentially of ERIA’s Experts Working Group on Marine Plastic Debris members, then offered a number of recommendations as to the future functions of the Regional Knowledge Centre and the roles the Experts Working Group can play to improve the knowledge exchange and management in the region.

Participating panellists are:

Dr. Youna Lyons, Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore
Dr. Muhammad Reza Cordova, Researcher, Research Center for Oceanography, National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN)
Dr. Kavinda Gunasekara, Geoinformatics Center, Asian Institute of Technology
Ms. Kamala Ernest, Programme Management Officer - Coordinator of SEA circular Project, UN Environment Programme

Some of the most salient needs raised during the discussion are:

  • Define research barriers hampering the work of researchers that are not sufficiently acknowledged by the governments’ side, and communicate it to address such structural constraints;
  • Use existing data set and tighten the gaps to better inform various research groups that are working on different sub-topics of the overall marine plastic problem;
  • Find a way to expand citizen science tools to monitor plastic waste to enhance public participation in data collection;
  • Push for the harmonization of data collection methods and indicators to formulate more effective policies;
  • Form a united voice to deliver evidence-based policy recommendations to policymakers more effectively;
  • Formulate a way forward for emerging topics such as extended producer responsibility.

Dr Vong Sok, Head of Environment Division of ASEAN Secretariat, who moderated the panel discussion, praised the experts for their insightful input to the work of ERIA’s Regional Knowledge Centre and confirmed the value of such a technical network to keep collaborating for the benefit of the ASEAN+3 region.

He admitted that existing data is never sufficient, so finding a way to enhance data collection is important, but it is also crucial to create a bridge between the available data, despite its limitation, with practical applications on the ground. Strategic thinking and a broader vision to make the data information effective and efficient for monitoring, planning, and management is needed, he concluded.