Governments, businesses, consumers urged to take greater action in reducing plastic waste

art-232-01-24062020A recent regional survey of consumers and food and beverage businesses across Southeast Asia by UNEP and FIA shows a significant disconnect between expectation and action on reducing plastic waste

Fundamental change throughout the plastic value chain is crucial to ensure clean seas and reduce plastic pollution, and this must involve improved efforts and greater ambitions from governments, businesses and consumers for that change to take place.

Such is the overall conclusion of a regional survey of consumers and food and beverage businesses across Southeast Asia that was released on 23 June 2020 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Food Industry Asia (FIA).

The survey was conducted by both organisations from January to April 2020 amidst the challenges of plastic pollution that have increased for the past few months due to a surge in waste generated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey polled around 2,000 consumers and 400 food and beverage businesses in five countries that are estimated to be among the top 10 sources of global plastic marine waste – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

“Efforts were taken to ensure that the sample covered a wide range of companies across the value chain, company ownership structure, company size and locations within the countries, while quotas were instituted to ensure accurate demographic representation of the consumers,” noted UNEP and FIA in a press release, adding that a similar survey would be conducted in 2022 for comparison.

Key findings according to press release by UNEP and FIA on the survey include:

  • Consumers are concerned about plastic waste, but are not changing habits.

While 91% of consumers state that they are concerned about plastic waste issues, fewer than half are less likely to buy a product from non-recycled material.

  • Consumers’ focus on recycling is increasing.

While only 54% of consumers are recycling and converting their plastic waste into useful products, 38% more have indicated their interest to do so in the next 12 to 18 months.

  • Businesses understand that their current efforts are not sufficient.

While 82% of businesses are extremely concerned about plastic waste issues, less than half feel their current efforts are sufficient to address the problem.

  • Targets by businesses on plastic waste need strengthening.

80% of businesses have targets to address plastic waste but of those companies with a target, less than one-third communicate it externally. Among business targets to reduce plastic waste, 74% are quantitative but only 59% have indicated deadlines.

  • Many businesses are not yet engaged in industry collaborations to tackle plastic waste issues.

Over half of businesses (51%) in the five countries are not part of any group tackling plastic waste issues. This ranges from 76% in Viet Nam to 24% in Thailand.

  • Both consumers and businesses want and expect further action by governments.

Consumers and businesses recognise that governments are concerned with plastic waste. Key actions by government considered most critical include mandating waste segregation, enhancing collection systems, ensuring consistent labelling on product recycling, and imposing littering fines and charges.

“As the surveys show, many more businesses need to join platforms to scale up efforts,” said Executive Director for FIA Matt Kovac.

“Policies, projects and funds must work concurrently, as must key actors across the plastics value-chain to build a multi-stakeholder approach that enables businesses, consumers and governments to find ways to create circular approaches to plastics.”

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