Instead, improving rubbish collection systems is the best way for the region to stop plastic leaking into the ocean, the study by food and beverage trade association Food Industry Asia has found.
Cutting plastic bag use, reducing plastic packaging and redesigning products for recyclability have minimal impact in reducing the plastic waste that enters Southeast Asia’s seas.
That was the conclusion from a study of waste management practices in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines commissioned by Food Industry Asia, the Singapore-based trade association for the region’s food and beverage industry. FIA members include Nestlé, Unilever, Indofood and Monde Nissin, which beach audit studies have shown to be among the world’s biggest marine plastic polluters.
If consumers stopped using plastic bags, there would only be a 2 per cent drop in plastic leaking into oceans from these countries, according to the report, released in September.
This compares to a drop in plastic leakage by 35 per cent from increasing garbage collection systems and 22 per cent from better materials recovery facilities (MRFs), solid waste plants that process recyclable materials.
The Singapore-based organisation revealed in its study that plastic bans, for instance removing free carrier bags from supermarkets, did not even rank in the top 10 ways to reduce plastic leakage in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, which collectively contribute a quarter of plastic marine debris worldwide.
Possible reasons for this are ineffective enforcement and monitoring and a lack of education among consumers and businesses, the study found.
“A ban or tax on plastics might actually be counter-productive because such measures are difficult to monitor and enforce,” Edwin Seah, FIA’s head of sustainability and communications, told Eco-Business.
“These countries have already tried to ban single-use plastics but in most cities, these bans have failed as there are no viable alternatives or there’s a lack of enforcement. For instance, wet food cannot be contained in paper packaging.”
The report showed that in Indonesia and Vietnam, banning plastic bags ranked lowest in curbing plastic pollution, at just 2 per cent reduction in plastic waste for each country.
In the Philippines, designing recyclable products ranked as the least effective solution to plastic leakage, with a 2 per cent reduction, while in Thailand household garbage separation bins were the least effective.
So, what is the best way to tackle plastic pollution?
Rather than focusing on plastic consumption, Southeast Asian governments should ramp up initiatives to improve their poor garbage collection systems, the study suggested.
It showed that there would be an estimated 35 per cent reduction in plastic waste in Indonesia if its government increases its garbage collection services.
Indonesia is the world’s second-largest plastic polluter after China, producing 3.2 million tonnes of plastic waste yearly, 1.29 million tonnes of which ends up in the sea.