12 billion tonnes of Plastic Waste predicted in the environment by 2050

12 billion tonnes of Plastic Waste predicted in the environment by 2050

The OPTOCE Regional Forum discuss tackling plastic waste management in Thailand, China, India, Myanmar and Vietnam

An estimated 13 million tonnes of plastic waste leak into our oceans every year, harming biodiversity, economies, and people’s health and is set to triple by 2040. International action is key to tackling the most significant sources of plastic litter in the oceans.

The Ocean Plastic Turned into an Opportunity in Circular Economy (OPTOCE) Regional Forum, held in Bangkok from October 27–28, 2022, examined potential solutions to this issue in five partner Asian nations: Thailand, China, India, Myanmar, and Vietnam. It also explored the opportunities and drawbacks of involving the cement industry in plastic waste management in Thailand and regional countries. The OPTOCE Forum is arranged by the Norwegian Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF), and funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through Norad.

Launched in Thailand in 2019, the OPTOCE Project seeks to demonstrate new solutions for better waste management and circular economic thinking. It also looks at the feasibility of using public-private partnerships to collect plastic waste from polluted hotspots, major rivers basins and beach-front areas and use the waste as a source of energy in local energy-intensive industries. This will reduce the release of plastic waste to the ocean, increase waste treatment capacity and establish sustainable, cost-efficient options in integrated waste management in the five partner nations.

Dr Kåre Helge Karstensen, Chief Scientist and Project Manager of OPTOCE SINTEF Community Norway, the keynote speaker, said, “International action is key to tackling the most significant sources of plastic litter in the oceans. An estimated 9.3 billion tonnes of virgin plastics were produced globally up to 2019. Out of this, around 6.3 billion tonnes have ended up as plastic waste, with only 9% recycled, 12% incinerated. 79% was dumped. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.” 

As part of the Norwegian Development Programme to Combat Marine Litter and Microplastics, the OPTOCE Project intends to contribute to its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.1: preventing and significantly reducing marine pollution of all kinds across the world by 2025. The Project focuses on insufficient waste management in developing countries and emerging economies, especially those connected to major world river basins, dumpsites/landfills, and industrial hotspots. It is estimated that more than 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources; Asian countries are among the top contributors to marine litter and microplastics.

The forum aims to investigate how the cement industry can be involved in increasing the treatment capacity for Non-Recyclable Plastic Wastes in these countries, thereby reducing the release of plastics into the sea.

These countries produce an estimated 217,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day, or 79 million tonnes/year. They have some of the highest release of plastics to the sea with relatively small quantities handled in an environmentally sound way. But these countries also have the highest industrial production of cement, steel, and electric power using fossil fuels like coal and thus contributing a large chunk to the world's CO2 emissions. 

Co-processing or Integrated waste management is the solution the forum pondered: replacing some of the coal with non-recyclable plastic waste may prevent a significant amount of plastic from ending up in the ocean. This would also reduce dependence on fossil fuels and indirectly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding having to build new incinerators or landfills. 

Additional objectives and synergies of the OPTOCE-project:

  • Reduce marine debris from land-based activities. 
  • Enhance multi-stakeholder coordination and partnerships. 
  • Promote private sector engagement. 
  • Strengthen research to support science-based policy and decision-making. 

During the two-day regional forum, 20 distinguished speakers from the industry, NGOs, start-ups, academic institutes, government institutions and industry associations from all over South-East Asia assessed the impact of the OPTOCE Project so far. They looked into research conducted on low-quality plastic waste, stakeholders’ views on co-processing, how co-processing can contribute to reducing marine litter, and how to achieve ‘net zero’ in the cement industry.

The forum also discussed the opportunities and drawbacks in the application of co-processing in the five partner nations– including academic collaboration and research – to identify a possible solution to the urgent problem.

For more information about OPTOCE, please visit www.optoce.no

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