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Challenges in Asian nations’ plastics fight

Challenges in Asian nations’ plastics fight

Fundamental changes needed to tackle waste management, analysts suggest

Late last year, the carcass of a sperm whale that washed ashore in eastern Indonesia was found to contain a huge lump of plastic waste-including bags and cups.

The discovery came six months after an autopsy of a pilot whale was spotted in a southern Thai province canal, with plastic bags and other trash in its stomach.

The death of the two whales best illustrates the massive plastic waste problem in Asia. The news raised concern among environmentalists and government officials in the region. More importantly, environmental analysts believe it is high time for Asian policymakers to implement a stronger and more systemic way of reducing the consumption of plastic bags and other single-use plastic containers.

“The fundamental changes which are needed have not yet occurred. There is a need for fundamental reforms in single-plastic consumption and Asian countries’ waste management,” said Danny Marks, assistant professor of environmental studies at the department of Asian and international studies, City University of Hong Kong.

Marks told China Daily that while the banning of single-use plastic containers has led to “small, cosmetic changes for the better” in some Southeast Asian cities, a more sustainable solution is to implement national waste management programs that can solve the region’s plastic waste pollution.

Beau Baconguis, a campaigner for the Manila-based Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives environmental alliance, saw another aspect of the issue. “Private companies should also be made accountable as they are the ones which produce all these plastic packaging,” she said.

With no options available, most consumers end up buying these products, contributing to the plastic waste problem, Baconguis said.

Despite the challenges, Asian governments have continued to make efforts to solve the problem. For example, delegates from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, held a meeting from Jan 28-31 in Phuket, Thailand, with the outcome forming part of a major environmental strategic plan.

Similarly, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in 2018 that the country will eliminate all single-use plastics in the country by 2022. Sri Lanka is also taking green measures.

Baconguis welcomed such government-led initiatives but said that individual consumers themselves need to find more eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags and containers. She pointed to the time before plastic bags became common, when people had reusable baskets made from woven dried leaves to carry items.

“We have to unlearn what we have learned in modern society. We need to return to practices that are more attuned to nature and ecology,” she said.

Economic cost

Rapid economic growth in the region has spurred consumption and increased usage of plastic goods, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, with the higher consumption in turn causing both environmental and health problems.

Plastic bags can clog sewers and create breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other pests. Plastic containers that end up in the ocean are often eaten by turtles, whales and dolphins mistaking them for food.

Plastic waste also has an economic cost. The trash in the Asia-Pacific alone costs its tourism, fishing and shipping industries $1.3 billion a year, according to the UN agency. The problem is not just the amount of plastic waste generated-most emerging Asian economies cannot properly manage the waste they generate, in comparison with the United States, Japan and many European countries, it said.

For example, Japan generates more than 10 million kilograms of plastic waste each day but little of that ends up as pollutants thanks to an effective waste management program. In contrast, India generates less than 2 million kg of plastic waste a day but more than 80 percent of that is mismanaged. Hence, plastic bags and containers end up polluting the country’s sewers and rivers.

The UN agency noted that most Asian countries have attempted to control the production and use of plastic bags through levies and plastic bag bans. But poor enforcement has kept these policies from making a dent in plastic consumption.

That can be attributed to the lack of political will and the absence of a more institutional way of collecting and managing solid waste, according to Marks from the City University of Hong Kong.

Solving the plastic pollution crisis requires focus on another ‘R’ — responsibility

Solving the plastic pollution crisis requires focus on another ‘R’ — responsibility

By emphasizing recyclability and recycling over reduction and elimination of plastic waste, major companies are still ducking their responsibility to tackle plastic pollution.

The problem with plastic is not new. For decades the plastics and packaging industry has combined with food and beverages companies to frame it as a “litter” problem. Individuals littering are the problem, and it’s the responsibility of individuals to fix it. Public concern is effectively funneled to “clean-up” events, while industry lobbyists successfully weaken and postpone any policies that effectively would limit the growth of plastic. As a textbook example of how to effectively avoid responsibility for the ever-increasing amounts of single-use plastic, it has been a huge success. But it has been a disaster for the planet, resulting in a plastic pollution crisis.

What’s new is that this slow-burning crisis has leapt beyond environmental concerns to hit the headlines in many countries. Despite the flurry of negative stories, the playbook suggested by those really responsible remains the same: “more recyclable packaging,” “more recycling” and “voluntary targets.” Despite all the evidence that recycling is not the answer, it’s still pushed as the first priority. Only 9 percent of all the plastic ever made has been recycled. Most of that is downcycling to low-grade plastics. Even when effectively collected, a high portion of plastic packaging is impossible to recycle. Like the convenience of plastic packaging, pushing recycling first is convenient for avoiding responsibility.

Who is responsible?

In order to find out where the plastic packaging actually comes from, I started by looking at the contents of my own plastic recycling bin for two weeks. I live in the Netherlands, which has a long established bottle deposit scheme, plastic bag tax and plastics recycling scheme for most homes, partially funded by a producer responsibility levy.

Despite these measures, I still had 147 items of single-use plastic in my recycling bin. Forty came from supermarkets and 52 from named companies; the rest were unbranded plastics. That means of the roughly 3,800 pieces of plastic entering my home each year, over 60 percent comes from consumer goods companies and supermarkets.

The #breakfreefromplastic campaign has done this on a global scale with global audits of plastic pollution. For the last two years, volunteers have organized hundreds of plastic pollution cleanup events and audited what they collect, to create a unique insight into exactly which companies are most responsible. Of 147,000 pieces of plastic collected in 2018, the biggest polluters are Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez International, P&G, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars and Colgate-Palmolive, according to the organization.

 

Prioritize reduction and reuse over recycling

Tackling plastic pollution requires dramatic reductions in quantities of single-use packaging and focusing product design and changing business models to increase reuse. Any company skipping straight to recycling as the solution is ignoring proven waste reduction strategies in favor of failed non-solutions. Fixing the broken take-make-waste consumption model will require much more than incremental increases in recycling.

Major multinationals have played a major role in creating this crisis. Chasing market expansion and maximizing profits with single-use plastics as the go-to solution. In developing countries, Nestle, P&G and Unilever created the sachet economy using packaging they knew was impossible to recycle, inevitably creating a new type of waste. Small sachets of soap, coffee and instant noodles are the biggest type of plastic pollution in many developing countries.

Unilever is at least belatedly starting to address the problem of sachets, but again the focus is on recycling only, not on expanding proven existing business models such as dispensers and reusable containers. This pattern of aggressively expanding new markets without having solutions for waste is repeating itself with Tetra Paks in Vietnam. Over 8 billion Tetra Paks are sold annually in Vietnam, but only a tiny portion are recycled as the recycling infrastructure has been overwhelmed by growth.

Avoiding regulation

In developed countries, food and drinks companies and the plastic industry have funded industry associations to continually lobby against regulation that requires full producer responsibility for packaging and to prevent solutions such as deposit bottle schemes being implemented or expanded.

Here in the Netherlands, a successful and popular bottle deposit scheme for large PET bottles has been consistently attacked for decades by industry lobby groups. These groups always push for voluntary waste reduction targets that are subsequently never met. The scheme has survived, but reusable hard PET bottles have been replaced by companies in favor of single-use PET deposit bottles, which are mostly destined for downcycling.

In 2018 a Dutch proposal for expanding deposit-return schemes to small plastic bottles and cans was defeated by intensive lobbying from the corporate sector and supermarkets on cost grounds. This is the standard industry lobby playbook in many countries: Delays and promises of voluntary improvement bury the inevitable failure. Rinse and repeat for the next political cycle.

The problem and who is responsible is clear. Here are the new 4 Rs of how companies and the plastics industry can take responsibility to really be part of the solution:

  1. Radical transparency: Exactly how much plastic packaging is your organization responsible for?
  2. Reduce single-use plastic: State clear absolute reduction goals combined with regular progress reports.
  3. Redesign business models to promote reuse: How exactly are you promoting reuse and driving fast progress towards circular economy packaging?
  4. Responsible policy support: Show clear support for regulation to reduce plastic packaging and withdraw from industry groups that continue to delay, weaken or undermine required regulation.

Start with transparency

The first part of being a solution to a problem is taking responsibility for your part of the problem. For huge companies that sell billions of single-use plastic packaging that means being transparent about how much plastic they use, how much they sell and what happens to their plastic waste.

Unfortunately, none has fully disclosed in detail what plastics they consume, how much and where. Only Unilever publishes a partial plastics footprint. Nestlé, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo don’t even disclose how many plastic bottles they sell each year. Without dramatically improved transparency, it’s impossible to assess how seriously companies are taking the problem.

Reduction as top priority

Any credible waste strategy has to start with reducing the amount of waste.

Currently, the global plastics industry is building hundreds of new plants to increase global plastic production by 40 percent, all based on fossil fuels. Only if major customers get serious about reducing demand will these expansion plans be stopped.

Any company serious about tackling climate change also has to get serious about reducing its own use of fossil fuel-based plastics. Despite the plethora of corporate announcements in response to increased media scrutiny, hardly any even mention actual reductions, let alone put reduction first.

reuse recycle bottles

Shouldn’t ‘Please reuse’ come first?

New business models

The recently announced New Plastics Economy Global Commitment finally marks the start of a response that’s actually addressing the core of the problem.

Getting producers, packagers and big consumer goods companies to commit to hard reduction goals and introduce reusable packaging is a good start. However, the pace and scale of change needs to be faster and solutions that already exist need to be implemented at scale.

 Why are problematic multi-colored PET bottles still being used? Supermarkets right now can encourage reusable packaging by offering discounts to customers bringing reusable containers. That fast change only happens when companies are shamed into action by focused campaigns; it does not exactly inspire confidence that the biggest corporate producers of plastic waste are actually prioritizing real solutions.

U.K. supermarket chain Iceland’s move to ban all single-use plastic from its own branded products by 2023 shows that big change is possible, and it represents the level of ambition that other retailers and consumer goods companies need to follow.

Support responsible policy and regulation

There are almost too many examples to count of industry pledges, voluntary reduction promises and alike being used successfully to prevent effective waste reduction regulation, only for these promises and pledges to be broken.

As well as supporting initiatives such as the voluntary New Plastics Economy, major companies must show clear and unconditional support for ambitious regulation to reduce plastic pollution. That also requires cutting funding or membership ties to industry lobby groups aiming to weaken regulation.

Unfortunately, this does not appear to be happening. A recent leaked lobby letter reveals that even a simple measure to require drinks bottle caps to be attached to bottles in the European Union was opposed by Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Danone. Ironically, the lobby letter proposes bottle deposit schemes as a better solution, which these companies  also have lobbied to prevent being implemented in Belgium, France and Spain.

Coke, Nestle and Pepsi are all core partners of the New Plastics Economy. Unless these companies lead by example and stop opposing mandatory regulation to reduce plastic pollution, they remain part of the problem.

Tackling the plastic pollution crisis will require a complete switch away from the last 50 years of framing, funding and lobbying that created this crisis. Only companies clearly accepting their responsibility to radically reduce consumption of single-use plastic can be considered real leaders.

Article originally appeared in Greenbiz.

 

Berkeley on the Path to Zero Waste Dining!

Berkeley on the Path to Zero Waste Dining!

Last month, Berkeley City Council unanimously passed the Disposable-Free Dining Ordinance, a groundbreaking and expansive plan for phasing out single-use plastic foodware from Berkeley restaurants and businesses.

The ordinance, the first of its kind in the U.S. to comprehensively address single-use plastics, has been met with an outpouring of support from the community including students, youth, business owners, and local citizens. Berkeley City Council’s adoption of this ordinance not only reinforces the city’s reputation as a leader in the movement towards Zero Waste but will radically impact our collective journey towards a resilient future for all.

What does this mean for Berkeley?

  • Immediately requires items like utensils, straws, lids, and sleeves be provided by request or at self-serve station.
  • Immediately requires food vendors to have compost bins for customers.
  • By January 1, 2020, requires all disposable takeout foodware to be 100% BPI certified compostable.
  • By January 1, 2020, requires that all vendors charge $0.25 cents for hot and cold takeout cups. If a customer provides their own cup, the charge is not applied.
  • By July 1, 2020, requires that all eat-in dining be in reusable foodware.

The ordinance will be phased into adoption over the next few years. Businesses keep the $0.25 cup tax and can reinvest that revenue into upgrading their equipment. Additionally, there are small grants available from the city to support businesses to comply, as well as possible waivers for hard to attain take-out containers.

The passage of this policy is the culmination of years of work and is the embodiment of what we do at the Ecology Center: bringing together professionals, community members, business owners, city government, and social activists to empower local leadership, envision change and adopt sustainable solutions to society’s most pressing problems.

Get prepared for disposable-free dining with these items from the Ecology Center Store:

Zero Waste Beverage Cup
Turn any mason jar into a to-go mug with a Cuppow lid attachment (pictured), or opt for an insulated Klean Kanteen, incredibly effective at keeping your beverages hot or cold for hours!

Zero Waste Straws
Love Boba? Then you’ll love these reusable Boba Straws. Stainless Steel, they will last a lifetime! Easy to clean, and perfect to ensure no tapioca ball gets left behind!

Zero Waste Tupperware 
A stainless steel food container is the best way to take your food to go without creating plastic trash. And you can throw it in the dishwasher when you’re home! At our store you’ll find insulated and uninsulated options, as well as a wide range of sizes.

Zero Waste Utensils
These Bamboo utensils make an excellent gift, and are great for on-the-go eating. No more plastic spoons that last a lifetime in our oceans! The bamboo utensils are sturdy and come with a beautiful cork and leather pouch to keep them safe and clean in your bag. They’re also compostable so you can dispose of them guilt-free when they are done with their lifecycle.

Learn more about the Disposable Free Dining Ordinance in these press hits:
“Berkeley to charge 25 cents for disposable coffee cups with the goal of zero waste,” KTVU

“Berkeley isn’t just attacking plastic waste, it’s rejecting our entire throwaway culture,” by Martin Bourque and Annie Leonard, Op-Ed, LA Times

 

This blog originally appeared in Ecology Center.

 

European Responses to the Plastic Pact

European Responses to the Plastic Pact

On Thursday 20th of February two ‘Plastic Pacts’ were released in France and the Netherlands. These ‘pacts’ are voluntary agreements led primarily by industry groups committing to increased recyclability of packaging materials. Two organisations from the #breakfreefromplastic movement have issued responses to the launch of these pacts. In France, Zero Waste France & Surfrider Europe issued their response calling for binding political measures. Whilst in the Netherlands, the Recycling Netwerk published their response, again demanding firm legislation to tackle the plastic pollution crisis. You can find both of these statements below as well as on the respective websites.

 

Recycling Netwerk’s response to the Dutch pact:

Dutch “Plastic Pact” may increase recycling, but it won’t solve the plastic pollution

The Plastic Pact of the Dutch government and 80 plastic producing companies will lead to more efficient recycling, but it won’t solve the plastic waste problem, the Belgian-Dutch environmental ngo Recycling Netwerk Benelux says today.

The Dutch secretary of state responsible for environment, Stientje van Veldhoven (D66, social liberals) presents a Plastic pact concluded with 80 companies on Thursday.

“Every initiative to tackle the plastic problem is welcome. But the voluntary recycling agreements in the pact will only slightly reduce the pollution caused by a plastic production that spiralled out of control”, director Rob Buurman of the Dutch-Belgian ngo says. “The Plastic Pact does not bring the much needed system change to deal with plastics in a different way”.

The target of qualitative recycling of 70% in the pact is ambitious and good. But it should be written in a law, not in a voluntary agreement that cannot be controlled by the government, Buurman says.

All targets of the Plastic Pact aim for 2025. “The Dutch government should make agreements that they can verify in the actual governing period until 2021”, Rob Buurman insists.

The Pact will not lead to less plastic litter or less plastic soup. It encourages so-called bio-based plastics, but these pollute as much as any other plastics.

“These kind of voluntary agreements are too little and too late. We’re in 2019. The Dutch government should urgently make firm legislation to make the plastic producers responsible for all clean-up costs, enlarge the deposit-return system to small plastic bottles, and introduce legally binding reduction targets for plastics, Recycling Netwerk concludes.

Rob Buurman, director Recycling Netwerk Benelux rob.buurman@recyclingnetwerk.org +31 616 40 10 40

Press contact: Tom Zoete, communication Recycling Netwerk Benelux tom.zoete@recyclingnetwerk.org +31 616 10 10 50

 

Zero Waste France’s response to the French pact:

 

National Pact on plastic packaging : NGOs point the urgent need for binding political measures

The French Ministry for the Environment and several voluntary companies are signing a National Pact on Plastic Packaging.

Zero Waste France and Surfrider Foundation Europe, members of the Break Free From Plastic movement, which brings together 1700 civil society organisations at international level, are alerting policy-makers: it is no longer time for voluntary commitments but for national regulatory measures to tackle the plastic pollution crisis.

A voluntary pact insufficient to deal with the extent of plastic pollution

Every year, the production and consumption of plastic materials in the world is higher than the previous year. The disposable packaging sector is one of the main drivers of this growth. In France, it absorbs 45% of all plastic consumed nationally and represents 60% of the plastic waste produced. The sector’s forecasts do not show any signs of a downturn: global plastic production is expected to increase by 40% in the next 10 years and disposable packaging accounts for a third of this increase.

In this context, the Voluntary Pact on Plastic Packaging signed today at the Ministry seems not to be sufficient to reverse this trend of exponential growth. While it includes some commitments regarding the progress of plastic recycling, it does not contain any quantified target for a net reduction in the quantities of disposable plastic packaging placed in the market.

Above all, it is a “voluntary” Pact, which will therefore not apply to all economic actors but only to those stakeholders who consider themselves bound. It cannot therefore be a substitute to proper public policy that results from democratic debate and applies to all.

The need for political action on the plastics frontline

Antidia Citores, spokesperson for Surfrider Foundation Europe: “At a time when nearly 25,000 citizens are taking up the challenges of the Ocean zero application to reduce their daily plastic impact and prevent marine pollution, it is more than time for public authorities to take real binding legislative measures to reduce plastic pollution at source in compliance with EU obligations and environmental emergency”.

“While the beginning of the year has been marked by worrying political setbacks in the fight against plastic pollution, we expect from the government binding measures to reduce single-use plastic, which can lead the way and set the ambition for all the stakeholders,” adds Laura Châtel, advocacy officer at Zero Waste France. “The plastic reduction target cannot be flexible and voluntary”.

At the end of January, the Senate reviewed, within the framework of the PACTE law, the plastic product bans planned for 2020, even though they were formally adopted this very same year. At the same time, the first version of the government’s draft « Circular Economy » law, which was circulated in the press, contained no measures relating to plastics. France has positioned itself as a leader in the fight against plastic pollution at European level during the negotiations on the Plastic Directive, a leadership that should be reflected in its domestic policy.

To reverse the trend and address the problem of plastic pollution at its roots, the NGOs are calling for:

  • A national target for the reduction of disposable plastic packaging ;
  • economic and regulatory support measures to encourage bulk sales and reuse systems for packaging ;
  • Single-use plastic products bans (cups, straws, crockery, etc.) already voted by the National Assembly to be maintained, strengthened (extension of the ban on cups and food containers in collective catering) and effectively implemented;
Greenpeace Ships Set Sail to Tackle the Global Plastic Pollution Crisis

Greenpeace Ships Set Sail to Tackle the Global Plastic Pollution Crisis

Corporations have created a plastic monster. More than 90 percent of the plastics ever produced have not been recycled, yet corporations have plans to dramatically increase their production of plastic packaging. With plastic production set to quadruple by 2050, recycling can never be enough to solve this problem.

But the global movement to hold these corporations accountable is growing. More than 3 million of you have joined us in urging companies to stop polluting our planet with throwaway plastic. And together with over 1,400 allies in the global Break Free From Plastic movement, we conducted 239 cleanups in 42 countries to identify the biggest corporate polluters.

In October, Greenpeace International released the Crisis of Convenience report, based on a survey to 11 of the biggest fast-moving consumer goods companies globally. Despite some of these companies publicly signing a voluntary, non-binding commitment to tackle the crisis, the report revealed that none of the companies surveyed currently have comprehensive plans to move away from single-use packaging; on the contrary, most of them have plans to increase the overall amount of plastic packaging they produce.

So now we are deploying the Greenpeace ships; the Rainbow Warrior and the Beluga, to tell the global story of where plastic pollution really starts and ends. We are rallying supporters worldwide to help hold these companies accountable and to make sure they follow up on their words with bold action. Because we don’t need more talk—we need concrete, urgent action to stop plastic pollution at the source!

greenpeace-rainbow-warrior

Greenpeace’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, has been surrounded by giant single-use plastic items in Mediterranean waters. The action seeks to make visible the invisible, and to denounce the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans, especially in the Mediterranean Sea.

Greenpeace’s flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, has been surrounded by giant single-use plastic items in Mediterranean waters. The action seeks to make visible the invisible, and to denounce the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans, especially in the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s time for Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo., Colgate, Danone, Johnson & Johnson and Mars to be transparent about exactly how much plastic packaging they are producing, and make concrete plans to reduce. It’s time for these corporations to invest in alternative ways to deliver their products to us and phase out single-use plastic.

These companies have created a monster, and we are not willing to allow the plastic monster to grow anymore. We need concrete plans for reduction, and we need them now. We need corporations to slay the plastic monster.

 

Stay tuned for more details about Greenpeace’s ships’ whereabouts in the coming weeks and months and to see how you can get involved!

Graham Forbes is Greenpeace’s global seafood markets project leader. Originally posted in EcoWatch.

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