Southeast Asia tackles regional plastic policy
Rhodina Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - October 17, 2019 - 12:00am

PENANG – Hundreds of local government officials from several countries in Southeast Asia including environmental groups gathered in this northwest Malaysian state earlier this week to discuss policies and push for solutions to the problem of plastic pollution in the region.

Jed Alegado, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) Asia Pacific communications officer, said the “International Zero Waste Cities Conference,” which began Monday at the Light Hotel in Penang, aims for cities already active in zero waste programs to share best practices with other Southeast Asian cities.

“The exchange of information on waste management between cities will result in learning that will be beneficial to each locality or municipality. This is also to encourage more cities to engage in zero waste programs through experiences shared by active municipalities,” Alegado said.

The two-day conference was organized by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific and the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) in collaboration with Seberang Perai City Council.

Environmental groups contend that waste should not be addressed through harmful end-of-pipe technologies like “waste-to-energy” incinerators, but through zero waste systems. Zero waste approaches address waste and resources throughout their entire lifecycle – from production to end-of-life – with the goal of waste prevention and resource conservation.

Participants include those from the Philippines led by San Fernando Mayor Erwin Santiago. The city of San Fernando in Pampanga, for example, is implementing a strict plastic bag ban, but challenges remain.

Santiago said their city now has 80 percent recycling rate and continues to work on the remaining 20 percent.

“We are doing our part because we also want our city to be sustainable. We put up this city environmental office so that the law on waste management can be fully implemented. It was not that easy at first but we accomplished something,” he said.

Santiago stressed, “With strong political will and stakeholder engagement, our city has realized the benefits of zero waste, like reduced waste generation, a cleaner environment and savings for the city. But we’re not stopping here. We also have policies like our plastic bag ban that will further reduce our residual waste. But we need to do more.”

Together with San Fernando city, BFFP noted that Malabon, Navotas, Tacloban, Nueva Vizcaya and Siquijor are also areas exerting efforts in line with the zero waste campaign.

A barangay in Quezon City has also started participating in the zero waste program as well as two barangays in Dumaguete and portions of Batangas province.

The International Zero Waste Cities Conference was first staged in Manila in January 2017. This coincided with the National Zero Waste Month, which is celebrated every January.

Meanwhile, a group committed to providing solutions to the world’s massive waste problem said there is a need for a global treaty that will address the issue of  plastic pollution affecting the environment at alarming levels.

Zero Waste Europe said that together with other concerned groups and individuals, they will push for the passage of this treaty at all costs.

“There are now ongoing discussions around the UN environment with regard to this global treaty to reduce plastic wastes. The talks recognize that plastic is the biggest marine polluter today. It often breaks down into microplastics that not only infiltrate marine life but affect human life as well because of our consumption,” said Jack Mcquibban, Cities Program coordinator for Zero Waste Europe.

He expects that a proposal concerning the treaty will soon be forwarded to the upcoming United Nations Environment assembly in February 2021.

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