Southeast Asia losing US$ 6 billion by not recycling plastic

More than 75 per cent of recyclable plastics in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines are discarded. For the World Bank, this is a “significant untapped business opportunity”. Waste pollutes waterways and seas. Every year up to 13 million tonnes of waste end up in oceans, Asia is responsible for more than 80 per cent.


Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 75 per cent of recyclable plastics in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines are thrown out as regular waste, squandering a “significant untapped business opportunity”, this according to a recent study by the World Bank.

In Southeast Asia, up to US$ 6 billion are wasted a year from failing to recycle single-use plastic.

For the World Bank, adopting economic models based on a circular economy could help reduce waste that ends in landfills where it can contaminate waterways and eventually the seas.

At the UN Oceans Summit in September 2017, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand pledged to reduce plastic that ends up in the seas.

Card Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, was also present at the event. In his address, he sounded the alarm, noting that “if these present trends continue, this century may well witness an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems”.

Thailand, which has the largest petrochemical sector in Southeast Asia, recycles the smallest portion of its plastic waste at less than 18 per cent.

Bangkok is also behind in the recycling old smartphones, tablets and other devices, a practice that is good for the environment but also lucrative for e-waste firms.

In fact, Thais have shown growing interest and increased investment in recycling facilities. The country’s plastics industry contributed nearly US billion to the economy in 2018, or almost 7 per cent of GDP.

The situation looks better in Malaysia and the Philippines, where major brands have paid more attention to recycled content in the production chain.

However, most recyclable suppliers are small- and medium-sized enterprises that often do not have the scale, management systems or technologies to meet the demand.

“[S]tudies show that there is an untapped opportunity to reap environmental and economic benefits with clear and complementary interventions from the private and public sector,” said Ndiamé Diop, World Bank country director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

Setting recycled-content targets, mandating design for recycling standards, and imposing waste-collection requirements per industry can unlock additional material value for Southeast Asia.

Governments should also consider increasing sorting efficiency, restricting disposal of plastic waste in landfills, and phasing out non-essential plastic items, thus reducing the risk that it leaks into waterways.

As much as 13 million tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans each year, with Asia responsible for more than 80 per cent of it. The Philippines and Thailand are the third- and sixth-worst plastic polluters in the world, respectively, according to World Bank data.