Southeast Asia is one of the biggest sources of plastic waste thanks to rapid urbanisation and a growing middle class, whose consumption of plastic products is continuously rising due to increasing purchasing power and desire for convenience.
To make matters worse, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of plastics increased exponentially due to increased attention to hygiene, food delivery and takeaway packaging, and a jump in online purchases that require more packaging. This is alarming as plastic bags require approximately 10-20 years to decompose, while plastic bottles take around 450 years.
However, among Southeast Asian countries there is cause for optimism. Thailand and Indonesia have recognised the importance of plastic waste management. Both countries are working on initiatives to reduce plastic waste with commitment to a greener future.
Thailand aims to have all plastic waste recycled by 2027, after making moves to ban the import of foreign plastic and electronic waste since 2019 and to eliminate the use of plastic bags at major retailers since last year.
This is an ambitious goal as Thailand generates approximately 2 million tonnes of waste every year and the country's current recycling capacity is only 25%. The government needs to lay the groundwork for a better recycling system while raising people's awareness of the importance and methods of separating different type of waste.
To achieve this goal, the government recently approved a draft action plan to manage plastic waste by banning four types of products by 2022: plastic bags with a thickness of less than 36 microns, foam containers for foods (except shock-absorbing foam for industrial use), plastic beverage cups with a thickness of less than 100 microns, and plastic straws (except those in use for children, the elderly and patients). With this plan, the government aims to reduce plastic waste by 780,000 tonnes per year, which will bring it closer to the goal.
Like Thailand, Indonesia has set an ambitious goal to reduce marine plastic waste by 70% by 2025 and to get rid of all plastic pollution by 2040. Every year, Indonesia generates around 6.8 million tonnes of plastic waste, 61% of which is not properly collected and disposed of.
To realise the plan, the government has issued regulations such as a requirement for packaging producers to reduce plastic waste production by at least 30% in 10 years.
In the long run, the Indonesian government recognises that cooperation is key. For instance, the Indonesia National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP) and the Ocean Plastic Prevention Accelerator (OPPA) formed the Informal Plastic Collection Innovation Challenge, inviting innovators from around the world to submit their solutions to solve the issue of plastic waste to support the government's ambitious goal.
It remains to be seen whether the Thai and Indonesian environmental initiatives regarding plastic waste reduction will be successful. However, the ambitious commitments reflect positive political intentions to live up to our responsibilities on the global stage.
Dr Thaweelap Rittapirom is a director and executive vice-president of Bangkok Bank. For more columns in this series, please visit www.bangkokbank.com