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Asean states lose $80B-$120B yearly due to plastic waste

SOUTHEAST Asian countries, including the Philippines, are throwing away billions to the ocean by continuing to use single-use plastics, according to the World Bank and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

In a Blog, World Bank Managing Director for Operations Axel van Trotsenburg and Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi said as much as $80 billion to $120 billion a year due to the failure to recycle plastics. This represented 95 percent of the packaging value of plastic products.

In Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand,  more than 75 percent or $6 billion of the material value of recyclable plastic is lost every year when single-use plastic is thrown away rather than recovered or recycled, they said.

“Southeast Asia has emerged as a hotspot for plastic pollution, with its rapid urbanization, rising middle class and inadequate infrastructure for waste management. Half of the top 10 countries contributing to plastic leakage to rivers and seas are located here,” they said.

“And Covid-19 has been a pandemic of plastic, triggering huge increases in the consumption of masks, sanitizer bottles, online delivery packaging and other single-use items. The plastics economy is generally a cycle of take, make and waste,” the authors added.

Efforts to address these, the authors said, include the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Plastics in 2019 and the ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in the Asean Member States (2021-2025).

The regional action plan, specifically, includes 14 Regional Actions across four pillars of Policy Support and Planning; Research, Innovation and Capacity Building; Public Awareness, Education and Outreach; and Private Sector Engagement.

More recently, in June 2022, the World Bank also extended a $20-million grant for the Southeast Asia Regional Program on Combating Marine Plastics (SEA-MaP).

The project aims to reduce plastic consumption, increase recycling, and minimize leakages to prevent land and sea-based marine plastic pollution. It will also support coastal and blue economies, which are particularly affected by marine litter and its effects on several key sectors—fisheries, tourism, and shipping.

Conservation and tourism

In a recent study by US-based luggage storage company Bounce, plastic waste has damaged coral reefs and wildlife, which are the main attraction of the world’s top snorkeling destinations.

Bounce said the volume of plastics in oceans has steadily grown at 5.14 percent annually. It added that as of 2020, the total volume of plastic in oceans stood at 1.73 million tonnes.

“Snorkeling is made possible by having clean, clear, and healthy surface oceans which provide habitats for coral reefs and all sorts of fish and plant species,” Bounce said.

In terms of square kilometer (km2) of coral reef area, Bounce ranked the Philippines as having the third largest coral reef area out of the world’s 50 top snorkeling destinations.

However, the Philippines has the highest percent of global plastic waste emission, at 36.38 percent, among these 50 countries.

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