23 Jun 2020 Press release

Report: Consumers and business concerned about plastic waste but expect governments to do more

Bangkok, 23 June 2020 – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Food Industry Asia (FIA) today released a regional survey of consumers and food and beverage businesses across South-East Asia that shows a significant disconnect between expectation and action on reducing plastic waste. The challenges of plastic pollution have only increased in the past few months, with the COVID-19 pandemic generating a surge in waste.

The survey polled consumers and businesses in five countries that are estimated to be among the top 10 sources of plastic marine debris globally - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam.

“Plastic pollution is choking the waters of South-East Asia,” said Dechen Tsering, UNEP’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “We will need fundamental change throughout the plastic value chain to achieve clean seas and beat plastic pollution. Governments, businesses and consumers can all increase their ambition and improve their efforts to achieve this goal.”

Among the key findings were that:

  • 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.

Areas where government action is critica

The surveys were conducted from January to April 2020 in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, sampling 2,000 consumers and 400 food and beverage businesses across the five countries. 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. A similar survey will be conducted in 2022 for comparison.

 “We are encouraged that companies have been much more involved in coming together to support cities and communities in a significant way to tackle post-consumer plastic waste by accelerating packaging innovation and enhancing plastics collection and recycling, through initiatives like the Circular Materials Lab and the Packaging Recycling Organisation Viet Nam,” said Matt Kovac, Executive Director for Food Industry Asia. “But as the surveys show, many more businesses need to join platforms to scale up efforts. 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.”

This survey and report were co-commissioned by SEA circular, an initiative of UNEP and the Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) – supported by the Government of Sweden – and FIA to inspire market-based solutions and encourage enabling policies to prevent marine plastic pollution in South-East Asia. The analysis was conducted by AlphaBeta.

The Swedish Ambassador to Thailand, Lao PDR and Myanmar, Staffan Herrström, said, “This study provides valuable insights that can help accelerate the behavioral change needed to beat plastic pollution and prevent marine litter. Importantly, it shows that opinions among consumers and businesses provide ample opportunity for governments to take tangible, effective actions, such as promoting waste segregation at household level, improving waste collection and recycling capacity, and ensuring better product labelling, all of which will increase recycling rates. This can be pursued through a combination of regulation and incentives, and I encourage governments to use this opportunity.”

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

About United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

About Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
Sida, is a government agency working on behalf of the Swedish parliament and government, with the mission to reduce poverty in the world. Through its work and in cooperation with others, Sida contributes to implementing Sweden’s Policy for Global Development (PGU). Sida carries out enhanced development cooperation with a total of 35 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

About the Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA)
COBSEA is a regional intergovernmental mechanism bringing together nine East Asian Seas countries in protection and sustainable development of the marine environment and coastal areas. The COBSEA Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter, adopted in 2008 and revised in 2019, provides a framework for regional collaboration in tackling marine litter.

About SEA circular: solving plastic pollution at source
SEA circular is an initiative of UN Environment Programme and the Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) to inspire market-based solutions and encourage enabling policies to prevent marine plastic pollution in South-East Asia.

About Food Industry Asia (FIA)
FIA was founded in July 2010 by a group of leading food and beverage companies. From our base in Singapore, we seek to enhance the industry's role as a trusted partner in the development of science-based policy in the region. FIA provides an important hub for advocacy and debate. We bring together the food industry's most senior business leaders to champion initiatives that promote sustainable growth and support regional policies that deliver harmonised results.

About AlphaBeta
AlphaBeta is a strategy and economic advisory business serving clients across Asia from our headquarters in Singapore. Our team of advisors are experts in both strategy and economics who partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors to identify the forces shaping their markets and develop practical plans to create prosperity and wellbeing.

For more information, please contact:

Adam Hodge, Asia-Pacific Regional Information Officer