Asia could cut emissions by improving plastic waste management: report

Report says rubbish mismanagement ranges between 50% and 75% in India and five Southeast Asian countries.
By Subel Rai Bhandari for RFA
2023.06.29
Bangkok
Asia could cut emissions by improving plastic waste management: report A waste collector looks for recyclable materials as smoke billows from burning garbage at the Bhalswa landfill site on World Environment Day in New Delhi,  June 5, 2022.
Reuters

Recycling all mismanaged plastic waste in South and Southeast Asia will decrease greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a quarter of a billion metric tons by the end of this decade and help combat climate change impacts, according to a new report.

Investing in proper waste management and recycling solutions in Southeast Asia and India could cut emissions by 229 million metric tons by 2030, the equivalent of shutting down 61 coal-fired power plants, said the report released on Wednesday.

Mismanaged plastic waste refers to uncollected and improperly disposed of waste, including litter and garbage that ends up in open dumps or burned, polluting the surrounding environment.

The report covered Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and India. It was prepared by the New York-based non-profit The Circulate Initiative, as part of a tool designed to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water consumption of plastic waste management and recycling solutions across South and Southeast Asia. 

Across the six countries, the mismanaged plastic waste rates ranged from about 50% to 75%, the report said, adding that Indonesia produced 5.8 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste annually, the highest amount among the six countries.

India came in second with 5.3 million metric tons of waste annually, while Vietnam produced 4.6 million metric tons. Thailand produced 3.4 million metric tons, while Malaysia and the Philippines produced 1.2 million metric tons each annually.

Every ton of plastic waste in landfills releases about 3 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change, according to researchers.

The report said that open burning is the sole carbon footprint hotspot in Indonesia and the Philippines, with such activity accounting for 48% of plastic waste in Indonesia and 30% in the Philippines and contributing to 94% of Indonesia's total carbon footprint and 86% in the Philippines.

According to the report, if the six countries adopt plastic waste recovery and recycling solutions instead of incineration and waste-to-energy approaches, they could prevent approximately 20 million tonnes of emissions in 2030.

Another scientific report released in April said Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia are the top five countries worldwide for producing large municipal solid waste, at 1.14 kilograms per capita per day. 

Globally, mishandled plastics pose a considerable challenge and are closely tied to the worsening climate crisis. Environmental experts have estimated that 140 million metric tons of plastic waste have already accumulated in oceans and rivers worldwide.

The annual influx of plastic waste into the ocean could almost triple by 2040, reaching a staggering 29 million metric tons.

However, research indicates that it is feasible to achieve an 80% reduction in plastic leakage into the ocean by 2040 by utilizing existing technologies. 

Beyond the hazards posed to the marine and land environment and humans, plastics have a significant carbon footprint and emit 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas, or about 3.4% of global emissions, with 90% of these coming from their production and conversion from fossil fuels. 

By 2060, emissions from the plastics lifecycle are set to more than double, reaching 4.3 billion tonnes of gas emissions.

Edited by Mike Firn.

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