This article series draws on the interviews with advocates and practitioners on plastic issues in Asia, mapping out challenges and solutions towards a plastic-free future. While plastic is ubiquitous in our lives, and leads to health hazards and damages to our ecosystem, it draws on the major challenges facing us: Recycling, which is pushed by the governments and corporations as panacea, turns out not to be the ultimate solution; and COVID-19 pandemic diminishes previous gains from stemming the crisis. What would be the way out? It also highlights and makes the case of the possibility of zero waste in communities.
Plastic is ubiquitous in our lives. Its presence seems harmless but the truth is plastic polluters at each stage of its life cycle. It is produced using fossil fuels and is responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Its toxic nature causes harm to millions of living creatures, including humans.
Mountains of dumpsites mostly composed of plastic residuals, polluted oceans and waterways, animals that have choked on plastics, among others. The COVID-19 pandemic brings to us a new surge in the use of single-use plastics, which reduces the gains from previous efforts in plastic reduction and requires systemic and technological actions to strengthen waste management.
Unfolding the plastic crisis in Asia
In this series, with the insights from advocates and community practitioners on plastic reduction in Asia, the articles in this Plastic Atlas Asia web dossier take a deeper dive into the root causes of the problem in the region and tackle the deluge of plastic waste due to the COVID-19 pandemic, debunk the myth behind recycling as a panacea, and present the case for transforming communities to become zero waste as a solution to the plastic pollution crisis.
While the plastics industry would like consumers to think that many plastic products are recyclable, less than 10% of all the plastics produced since the 1950s has actually been recycled with the rest incinerated, dumped in landfills, or left to pollute the environment.
The plastic crisis has since become more evidently significant quite recently when studies have shown the massive scale of the problem. Industry-backed studies have put the blame on regions like Asia to a certain extent. However, these have somehow led to a growing recognition of how serious the problem is, such that various actors globally especially in Asia - from governments to intergovernmental organizations to international financial institutions to private sector, non-governmental organizations as well as private individuals have been adamant in addressing the problem.
A multi-stakeholder solution to the problem
All too often, the industry’s response to the problem is to downgrade it to a mere waste management issue and bank on the narrative that Asian countries are to blame for lack of waste management infrastructure. They have passed on the onus to citizens to bear the cost of dealing with the pollution created by plastics producers and consumer brands.
However, there are a lot more things that both governments and corporations can do to avert the crisis. While the governments should improve the waste management systems and properly implement regulations and aim for high recycling rates, they should also hold companies accountable that are currently contributing to and profiting from the plastic crisis. Asian communities can learn from neighboring countries on zero waste initiatives and adopt zero waste plans in their localities.
It is high time for governments, corporations, and every one to take actions on single-use plastics. Asian government and corporations need to step up their game in fighting plastic pollution.