Southeast Asian countries are getting serious in implementing proper waste management as the urgent call for environment protection reverberates throughout the region. Government policies and private sector initiatives are being drawn up and implemented to alleviate the plastic waste crisis. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report takes the first comprehensive look at policies on packaging waste and standards in 10 countries in Southeast Asia. With over half of the land-based plastic pollution in our oceans originating from just five countries, four of which are in Southeast Asia, the environmental impact of plastic litter in the Asia-Pacific region alone costs its tourism, fishing and shipping industries $1.3 billion per year, according to the UNEP report.
The Philippines records over 17.5 billion plastics thrown out each year, most of them ending up in the ocean. Tagged as a “sachet economy” due to the popularity of products bought in sachets by consumers, around 60 million sachets are used and disposed each year adding up to the plastic waste volume.
During the virtual conference “2021 ASEAN Manufacturing Summit: Creating a Circular Economy for Plastic” held in May 2021, Crispian Lao, Commissioner and Vice Chairman of the National Solid Waste Management Commission, and Founding President of the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Material Sustainability (PARMS), discussed the Philippine law on solid waste and how the private sector is taking part in the implementation of a zero waste to nature program. The National Solid Waste Management Commission is under the Office of the President of Republic of the Philippines, and Mr. Lao is the Private Sector Representative for the recycling industry. He is a strong advocate for the environment through proper waste management and the development of enabling policies to promote technologically and economically viable investments in support of sustainable production.
Mr. Crispian Lao
Solid waste management – meeting the target
At the virtual summit, Mr. Lao talked about the Philippine’s law on solid waste, the state of solid waste in the Philippines, the Philippines National Action Plan on Marine Litter, and the Zero Waste to Nature Program initiated by the PARMS in collaboration with the business sector.
The Philippine law on solid waste contains mandatory provisions, including but not limited to, segregation of source where households, institutions and business establishments are required to segregate their waste at source. It also calls for segregated collection by the local government units, mandatory waste diversion initially set at 25% which is now at 50%, establishment of material recovery facilities, and enclosure of all open and controlled dumpsites by 2006. The Philippine government is aggressively pushing for people to bring their own bags when going for their groceries as ban on plastic bags take effect in some cities, and to buy in bulk, if possible, to minimise the amount of plastic waste.
Recycling is key to any solid waste management interventions, with composting, recovery or treatment of waste being critical. As Mr. Lao explains, the National Solid Waste Management Commission had also developed standardised guidelines for waste analysis and characterisation study, which helps inform the public on the various categories of waste, identifying the biodegradable waste, recyclable waste, residual waste and special waste. He also states the challenges in solid waste management given that the Philippines generates about 44,000 tonnes of waste daily in Metro Manila alone. The bulk of the solid waste is still biodegradables with recyclables taking about close to 30%. In terms of compliance, only around 31% of the communities (barangays) in the Philippines are served by material recovery facility. In 2018, only 14% of local government units have access to sanitary landfills. Another challenge is encouraging the shift in consumption from disposables to recyclables. As Mr. Lao puts it: “There is a lot of talks against single-used plastics and we would like to see a shift from using single-used disposables, if you cannot get rid of it, to maybe a more circular use of recyclable materials and develop an infrastructure behind it. Of course for residuals, we are looking at alternative technologies, energy recovery to bring most of this products or packaging materials to replace energy sources like coal.”
How businesses respond to the urgent call
In his discussion, Mr. Lao pointed out how the business sector has responded to the issue of plastic waste as companies have directed their attention to recycled content seeing that there is a market for recycled materials. There is also growing consensus to minimise the use of problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging by 2021, according to Mr. Lao, with a commitment by around 40 organisations to increase recycled content on an average of 25% by 2025. With up to 400 organisations having signed the new plastics economy global commitment initiated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there is a projected increase in demand for using recycled PET in the beverage industry. For instance, in the Philippines, Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc. (CCBPI), the bottling arm of Coca-Cola in the country, and Thailand-headquartered Indorama Ventures have signed a joint-venture agreement to establish PETValue, the largest state-of-the-art, bottle-to-bottle recycling facility in the Philippines. The next-generation facility will be completed this year and operational by 2021.
PARMS members, such as Mondelez Philippines, commit to reduce
global use of virgin plastic for plastic packaging.
The private sector-initiated Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability (PARMS) is a collaborative engagement of different stakeholders from the fast moving consumer goods, brand owners, and industry groups including the plastics, paper, glass industries, as well as NGOs and academe who are working closely with government agencies. PARMS, being a multi-sectoral coalition, is composed of leading companies including Universal Robina Corporation, Coca-Cola Philippines, Kopiko, Monde Nissin, Mondelez International, Nestle, Liwayway Marketing Corporation (Oishi), Pepsi Cola Products Philippines, Procter and Gamble, and Unilever.
Most of the PARMS members have set targets that by 2025 or 2030, all their packaging will be recyclable. One of them is snacks maker Mondelez Philippines which has pledged that by 2025, it will reduce its global use of virgin plastic for rigid packaging by 25% or reduce virgin plastic use in overall plastic packaging by 5% in 2025. This goes hand in hand with targeting to have 5% recycled content by weight across plastic packaging globally by the same period.
“And of course the objective really is to develop and implement holistic and comprehensive program to reduce waste, to reduce our landfills dependence and we can do this through resource recovery and by promoting a circular economy. We refer to these as our full waste recovery and recycling program which the National Solid Waste Management Commission adopted.”
In 2020, PARMS launched the “Zero Waste to Nature: Ambisyon 2030” initiative towards developing a roadmap with short (2022) medium (2025) and long term (2030) targets to guide sound and implementable actions on single-use product and packaging applications. The initiative enables the forging of commitment between PARMS and its industry partners and stakeholders so that none of the waste should end up in nature – in line with the principle of 4R’s: reduce, reuse, recover and recycle. Several steps forward in designing packaging structure and looking at various recycling methods have also been tapped. This has enabled the production of certain products, such as construction materials, with recycled material content. The Philippines has already started doing and exploring other areas where plastic waste can be recycled and reused.
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