By NOPHAKHUN LIMSAMARNPHUN
THE NATION WEEKEND
WWF INTERNATIONAL is calling on Southeast Asia and other regions to tackle the menace of plastic waste, with its director-general outlining a multi-pronged approach and sustainable solutions.The world produces and consumes more than 300 million tonnes of plastic products every year, and Thailand’s rate of plastic consumption is in double digits.
Marco Lambertini said the problem of plastic waste has spun out of control because of the unprecedented growth in populations and the middle class, especially in Asia – in China, India and Southeast Asia.
About half of all plastic items are discarded after being used just once. Less than 15 per cent of plastic is recycled. As a result, plastic waste has become an enormous threat to the environment, with about eight million pieces of micro-plastic and other forms making their way into the oceans annually.
This garbage is posing a serious threat to marine life and in turn to human health due to the micro and nano-plastic that ends up in seafood.
In addition, the economic cost of plastic waste is growing rapidly thanks to sewage and drainage blockages, and is causing ecological damage at tourist attractions such as beaches.
The underlying issue is people using too much plastic and discarding it too carelessly. It is convenient and cheap and disposability is built in.
According to Lambertini, the best way to tackle this problem would be to impose taxes – primarily on manufacturers so as not to burden consumers.
He said reducing the overall consumption of plastic is one of the three priorities, with a focus on unnecessary packaging.
Large retailers can play a key role in changing consumer behaviour, he said, as in the recent campaign at 7-Eleven convenience stores, which managed to convince shoppers to forego plastic bags and thus far has kept 100 million bags out of circulation.
Second, Lambertini said, plastic-waste management must be improved, with penalties imposed on single-use plastic products that are not recyclable, such as shopping bags and straws. As for recyclable plastic items, the government will have to introduce effective collection and disposal methods while promoting biodegradable plastics as an alternative.
WWF International has been working with 80 countries to help them tackle the problem of plastic waste on land and in the seas.
It is also working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other organisations to propose an international “plastics treaty” to help governments deal with the issue.
The treaty would prompt governments to devise policies that, through tax breaks and other incentives, support research and development in biodegradable alternatives.
Lambertini believes governments should join forces to tackle the problem at the source or “upstream” – such as in the oil and gas industry, which supplies the petrochemicals used in making plastic. The chief aim in cooperation should be setting targets to reduce plastic production and consumption, he said.
This could take the same approach applied to promote renewable energy, prodding the private sector to develop plastics that are biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
The retail sector at the midstream level would have to be given a level playing field, Lambertini said. All major retail chains would be encouraged to reach a common agreement to replace single-use plastic bags with reusable bags.
He noted that micro-plastics are present in textiles and garments, toothpaste, facial creams and cosmetics.
Washing-machine manufactures should consider building micro-plastic trappers into their appliances to keep tiny pieces of plastic out of sewage and drainage systems, rivers and seas.