Day 3 of SEA of Solutions looked at solutions from communities and the local level.

Today at SEA of Solutions 2019, we focussed on promoting local solutions to plastic pollution through policies, technologies, research, innovation, actions and initiatives from national and local government, businesses, communities and youth.

Localizing multi-stakeholder coordinated actions for fighting plastic pollution

This session presented country and community solutions to tackle plastic pollution. Public concern is growing about high waste generation and pollution in Malaysia. In response, the country is taking bold steps to harness market-based solutions to transform plastic markets and management. Vehicles for change include plastic bag levies, investment in research and development for alternatives, tax incentives, phasing out single use items in public agencies, and combatting the illegal trade of waste. Communication, education, raising public awareness, and collaboration with civil society groups are key drivers for behavioural change. Local governments can engage communities and consumers in plastic pollution action through local buy-back centres and waste banks, awareness-raising programmes for waste separation, use of communications technology to monitor littering, and cooperation with fisherfolk to collect litter in the marine environment. Inter-municipal cooperation on waste management is an effective solution, by creating economies of scale and reducing costs beyond major urban areas.

Speakers stressed that marine pollution issues have moved to the centre of public attention and social media; and that businesses, governments and consumers are now more engaged than ever. It is essential to raise the voices of youth and invest in environmental education for children, to catalyse the fundamental societal shift we need.

“Bringing the powerful narrative of plastic pollution impacts to the local and individual level, mobilizes change and drives solutions.”

Nagulendran Kangayatkarasu, Deputy Secretary General, Environment and Climate Change, MESTECC

“Multi-stakeholder partnerships at the local level are part of the solution.”

Hidetoshi Nishimura, President, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA)

“Educating youth and inspiring hearts means we can work to solve the plastic pollution issue at the roots.”

Alexander Rendell, Managing Director, Environmental Education Centre Thailand (EEC)

Leading at the local level: Youth and community solutions

Community-based awareness-raising efforts, advocacy and innovations were showcased throughout this session - as well as the application of science and grass-roots knowledge. There was broad consensus on how education and awareness-raising is a vital component of the solution. It is crucial for citizens and civil society to lead from the local level and to upscale impact, whilst increasing pressure on governments and businesses, to implement change together. Effective communication of downscaled science and data can also support targeted interventions and solutions-thinking at the local level.

From youth engagement with major corporations and policy-influencing, to community building around the issue of waste reduction – the session focussed on eco-education, local level opportunities for intervention and scaling up impact. Ambitious and inspiring initiatives at the local and community level are focussing on solutions through strengthening policy, waste prevention, segregation, collection, organic waste treatment and education. Finding creative ways to convey vital messages through engagement and emersion was also discussed. Creative technology is being utilised by UNEP and others for conveying transformative messages on plastic waste reduction. Schools and universities play a vital role in changing perceptions and actions, with a reach way beyond the campus.

"Our earth is our responsibility and we should not be afraid to change. We work with companies, retailers and local communities to ban single use plastics and provide eco-education, green guidelines for restaurants, eco-restoration and many other solutions."

Ralyn ‘Lilly’ Satidtanasarn, Bye Bye Plastic Bags, Thailand

"We believe in education, supporting grassroot projects, making science and research available for all, and nurturing communities. Individually we are one drop, and together we are an ocean."

Katy Waring, Co-Founder, Ecobeast Group

“We are committed to carry messages to create awareness and engagement on the issue of marine plastic pollution through immersive tech, with the collaboration of UNEP and other partners. The power of technology can connect us and open up solutions."

Kay Vasey, Chief Connecting Officer, Mesh Minds

"At Chula Zero Waste we are looking at waste prevention, segregation, collection, organic waste treatment and education. Our single use plastic bag ban has led to four million bags avoided in past three years. Environmental education is vital; we need to promote environmental education into the policy framework."

Sujitra Vassanadumrongdee, Project Manager, Chula Zero Waste

"We bring students to islands which are polluted by single-use plastic waste. This experience gets them thinking critically and engaging in environmental issues. Through clean-up activities and education, we educate, learn, and seek solutions."

Wayne Nicholas Phillips, Lecturer, Mahidol University

"Bangkok River Partners work with hotels and embassies to make constructive and sustainable changes - through the Clean Up Bangkok River Project. Plastic waste impacts the environment, public health, tourism and the economy."

David Robinson, Director, Bangkok River Partners

Launch of the publication 'The role of packaging regulations and standards in driving the circular economy' - UNEP and GA Circular, with support from the Government of Sweden

This publication reviews the development of packaging waste policies and standards in response to the challenge of the growing crisis of plastics leaking into the environment in South-East Asia - particularly the marine environment. The publication identifies the role that policy interventions can play in addressing the growing environmental challenges posed by packaging and packaging waste. It outlines the development of packaging policies in 10 ASEAN countries, stemming from the need to halt the rapid growth of packaging waste, and ensure recovery of packaging material for circular applications.

Valuing waste: Business solutions

The session shed light on business solutions to increasing the value of post-consumer plastics. In the face of flawed collection systems and underdeveloped waste infrastructure, partnerships between businesses, communities and local governments can transform plastic waste into a valued resource. Tried and tested local solutions driven by the private sector include establishing take-back systems to recover high value plastic feedstock, such as waste collection centres and waste banks. By educating and training local communities, youth and waste pickers on separation and collection of plastics, and partnering with high-end consumer brands for upcycling, these initiatives can cost-effectively divert plastic from landfills and the environment and provide income opportunities. Examples of innovative tools to develop a social plastic ecosystem in partnership with businesses include the use of applications and blockchain technology to facilitate the recovery of plastic waste, create transparency and a lucrative and safe reward system.

Speakers demonstrated that retailers can lead the way by removing, reducing, and redesigning products and packaging at the consumer and production. Key mechanisms for change include establishing localized collection systems for recycling and upcycling that actively engage consumers and investing associated cost savings from the phase-out of plastic bags in a shift toward recyclable and recycled products. Developing long-term commitments for sustainability with suppliers can incentivize and de-risk change to transform supply chains. Consumer reward schemes are a simple vehicle to promote the use of reusable packaging and bags and participatory activities to upcycle hard-to-recycle products for socially responsible causes can effectively change consumer mindsets. The speakers called for local government action to develop effective waste management systems and consumer demand to drive system change, and emphasized the willingness of businesses to join hands and be part of the solution.

The session also launched the 2020 call for applications of the Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge. Calling all entrepreneurs, citizens, community leaders, activists, chefs, scientists and students - we invite you to apply for the Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge! We are looking for early stage start-ups that make sustainable goods and services more readily available. From low carbon mobility options, to products that reduce plastic waste, to solutions that reduce the carbon footprints of our lifestyles – pitch your solution to us for the chance to win US$10,000, training, production of your very own video, business mentorship from industry experts, and lots more.

“Everyone in the Asia-Pacific region should have the opportunity to live a low-carbon and low-waste lifestyle.”

Janet Salem, UNEP

“Solutions mean finding value in plastic and valuing communities. Nothing has no value – communities and businesses are at the heart of change.”

Siriporn Sriram, Programme Officer, IUCN Thailand

“Consumers can drive change and companies who do good things will be rewarded. If we adopt change in our every day lives, we do not even need laws to mandate change.”

Atip Asvanund, Head of Sustainability Development, Social Activities and Academics, Charoen Pokphand Group (CP)

“It is lonely to be a first mover – we encourage joint action.”

Salinla Seehaphan, Corporate Affairs Director, Tesco Lotus

“Plastic pollution needs a human solution. We are seeking more partnerships with governments, businesses and communities to expand our solutions.”

Paola Cortese, Country Director, Plastic Bank, Indonesia

Localizing transformation: National and local government solutions

This session looked at the requirements and opportunities to scale up current efforts at the community level to prevent plastic becoming waste. On the flip side, national policy-level interventions can incentivise businesses and community enterprises seek substitutes for plastics. National and local government working together on solutions is the key. National and local governments can partner by working together on multilevel partnerships on waste management, to ensure efforts can be replicated and are complementary. Examples were given of how local and national governments are already implementing successful and replicable initiatives, such as innovation in the recycling sector. Organizations such as Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) are bridging the national / local gap through working with both government partners and learning centres in East Asia to push for transformation. This effective partnership has led to the scaling up of local government marine debris initiatives, community-based garbage clean ups, waste collection and classification, and support for livelihood and social enterprise around marine plastics.

Other examples of successful and scalable locally/municipally focussed initiatives include World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) ‘No Plastics in Nature’ initiative and the ‘Plastic Smart Cities’ initiative – where cities make pledges to reduce plastic leakages and waste in their cities. There are even examples of ‘EcoTowns’ such as Kitakyushu in Japan. Various companies in Kitakyushu are developing and commercializing advanced technologies for waste plastic. This has national endorsement through the Japanese government ‘3R’s’ principles, and through support for renewable resource alternatives in the government’s plastic resource recycling strategies.

“Change is happening at the local government level because they are at the frontline of waste management and coastal management.”

Aimee Gonzales, Executive Director, Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA)

"Our vision is for the Plastic Smart Cities initiative to be as inclusive as possible – letting new innovations come through and letting communities take action and identify their local solutions.”

Yumi Nishikawa, Regional Plastic-Smart Cities Lead, SEA, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

“We are working to educate and raise awareness in all our residents about local solutions to plastic waste.”

Kazuhide Umemoto, Deputy Mayor, Kitakyushu, Japan

“Our river is vital to the people in the locality, because the river is a source of food and used for washing and bathing. So we find that local people are looking for solutions to preserve the cleanliness of the water - and are therefore incentivised and cooperative.”

Singthong Nunnumsirisawat, Mayor of Wiang Thoeng Tambon Municipality, Chiang Rai

"Every one of us has the power to make and create change. Today has been full of inspiring solutions to plastic pollution from the local community upwards. We must continue on this path together for less plastic wasted." M/C - Antoinette Taus, UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, Founder - Planet CORA