SEA of Solutions 2019 - DAY 1 SOLUTIONS WITH SCIENCE - 11 NOVEMBER 2019

WELCOME to SEA of Solutions 2019

SEA of Solutions 2019 is bringing together 600 participants from 45 countries, with 115 speakers in 25 sessions and 25 Exhibition Booths, highlighting solutions to prevent marine plastic pollution.

Setting the stage for the SEA of Solutions, Day 1: Solutions with science, considered how far the science has taken us – what do we know and what have we achieved? – and what we still need the science to tell us in order to successfully tackle marine plastic pollution.

Opening plenary – What does the latest science tell us?

"The Asia Pacific region is poised to lead changes in global perception of marine plastic litter and its solutions. An integrated approach adopted by many stakeholders should be at the forefront of informed action. SEA of Solutions 2019 has created a platform for dialogue and collaboration."

Nadya Hutagalung, UN Goodwill Ambassador

“Through sharing and though partnerships we can leverage these efforts more effectively, moving from the incremental to the transformational - towards less plastic wasted.”

Isabelle Louis, Deputy Regional Director, UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

"It cannot be denied that pollution from waste, especially plastic waste, is one of the most cumbersome and complicated environment and sustainable development challenges at all levels.”

Wijarn Simachaya, President, Thailand Environment Institute

Dr. Wijarn Simachaya, President, Thailand Environment Institute, highlighted the many interventions undertaken by Government of Thailand to combat plastic pollution. He expressed the critical nature of policy and regulatory frameworks for driving concerted action for comprehensive solutions. The ASEAN community has adopted the Bangkok Declaration for combating marine plastics and circular economy in the ASEAN region. Thailand has adopted a 20-year (2017-2036) roadmap for sustainable production and consumption of plastics.

Isabelle Louis, Deputy Director UN Environment Programe (UNEP), Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific highlighted the need for an integrated action of collective responses to the challenge of marine plastic litter. This collaboration of all stakeholders - from science, business, finance, investment, local and national governments, communities and individuals – can lead actions. SEA of Solutions 2019 is highly strategic, given the contribution of Asian countries towards marine plastic litter, but also an opportunity for action. Making SEA of Solutions an annual event will contribute by providing a platform for bringing together informed stakeholders for serious deliberations on this vital issue.

State of the science: How does scientific research support action to combat marine plastics in South-East Asia?

Session Lead: National University of Singapore (NUS), Centre for International Law (CIL)

To be successful, solutions to marine plastic pollution must be predicated upon a clear understanding of the issues based on sound science. This session discussed a review of scientific research on marine plastic pollution in South-East Asia and considered how critical research gaps can be filled. This work is a result of a team effort from several researcher centres of the National University of Singapore (NUS): the Centre for International Law (CIL), the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) and St John Marine Laboratory (SJML).

Publishing on marine litter in the region has boomed in recent years, but scientific literature research is not enough to identify the full breadth of what is being done. It is necessary to further build on our understanding of marine litter and plastic pollution status and ecosystems impacts, as well as human health impacts. Developing a more complete understanding of societal and economic aspects requires a long term commitment to developing the science.

"Expanding the geographical scope of the research to ASEAN +3 will improve the research to reflect the real status of the issues given the nature of marine plastic problems as transboundary issues."

Yuke Ling Tay, Research Assistant, CIL, NUS

"There is a need to revise and update the database and repository of marine debris research in South-East Asia. We need to analyze and summarize what is known and what is not known yet. This mapping will illustrate the ongoing research and the gaps within the research."

Youna Lyons, Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore (NUS)

"Current research mainly focuses on the distribution and abundance of plastic waste, while the source and transportation pathways of plastic waste need more consideration, for a more sensitive understanding of risk.”

Wenxi Zhu, Head, Programme Specialist, IOC-WESTPAC

Gender and social dimensions of marine litter pollution

This session considered how men and women are differently impacted by plastic pollution, both in the waste management sector and also as consumers - since women are usually responsible for households. The roles of women and men in waste management are different; women are affected by structural inequalities and trapped at the bottom of the hierarchy of the waste management industry. It is necessary to acknowledge this aspect in any interventions we put in place.

Waste management in South-East Asia relies on the informal waste management sector and plastic waste collectors. Municipal and rural wate management services are inadequate, so the informal sector is vital. But solutions will be found through placing greater value on waste management workers – particularly in the informal sector and at the bottom of the value chain, where workers are mostly women. Solutions include; placing more value on plastic itself and holding accountable businesses producing waste. To improve the livelihoods of waste collectors, it is necessary to remove the societal stigma of their work and waste in general and acknowledge their labour as public services. Solutions can also be found through awareness raising and capacity building for governments and businesses, in order to address those needs of waste collectors and allow them to form unions. Businesses are the duty bearers of waste production and management and must be held more accountable.

Solutions can also be found when waste workers are organized – or unionised. In coastal areas, solidarity between waste management workers and fishermen will support functional waste management and reduce marine plastic pollution. Giving value to waste and building markets to recycle plastic will also increase the value of waste management workers. It is essential to understand and include the informal waste management sector, to develop a pathway to value, involve and support waste pickers and not take away their livelihoods.

"It’s important to consider the intersectionality between war, climate change and waste management, as immigrants are the major workforce in informal waste collection.....As waste management becomes more mechanised, we find that women’s value and participation is reduced."

Kabir Arora, National Coordinator, Alliance of Indian Wastepickers

“Waste management workers are often vulnerable – they are frequently migrants –because it’s a low entry barrier industry”

Sumangali Krishnan, Chief Business Officer, GA Circular, Singapore

“We need to look at how the informal sector is impacting waste management. So when we talk to governments we need them to know where in the waste management system the informal sector comes in.”

Natalie Harms, Associate Programme Officer, COBSEA, UNEP

“We are not doing enough. Even if there are policies in place to support informal waste pickers – who are mainly women. We are not valuing plastic, we are not valuing waste, we are not valuing women.’

May Thazin Aung, Research Associate, Stockholm Environment Institute

During the session, the report Marine plastic litter in East Asian Seas: Gender, human rights and economic dimensions was launched. This report provides insights on the gender, human rights and economic dimensions of marine plastic litter to inform project design and activities and to ensure a fair, equitable and ethically-sound course of action, that leads to more effective, appropriate and sustainable outcomes in the longer term. The analysis highlights initial findings and existing knowledge gaps and provides recommendations for more equitable decision making, while recognizing the need to strengthen the evidence base on issues discussed. This study was prepared by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) under the SEA circular initiative implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA), with support from the Swedish Government.

Transboundary movement of plastic waste

The international trade in plastic waste for disposal and recycling has boomed. Social, economic, and environmental impacts arise as a result of mismanagement and weak accountability, prompting several countries in South-East Asia to impose restrictions on scrap plastic imports. This has led to spill over to other countries, and illegal trade persists. Governments in the region have started to adopt much stricter regulations and legal frameworks, changing the dynamics and movements of transboundary plastic waste.

Solutions to this intractable challenge involve understanding better the responsibilities of exporting and importing countries, increasing investment in plastic waste traceability, and developing recycling mechanisms, through creating demand in the manufacturing market for second-life plastics. This will contribute to closing the loop and minimising leakages from the system. Increasing legal instruments in the ASEAN region are important next steps in targeting legal and illegal imports of plastic scraps in the region. Solutions can be achieved by monitoring transboundary movement of plastics, enhancing sorting in exporting countries, building end-markets for secondary materials, designing products for recyclability and recycling, and investment in developing functional circular economies. Recipient countries were encouraged to better communicate globally the measures and guidelines they are putting in place to regulate trade. There is a demand for legally traded plastic waste for businesses, and this will also support environmental protection.

“In 2018, the total international trade of plastic waste reached 7.3 million tons, when three years back it was 14 million tons – it has reduced by more than 40%.”

Michikazu Kojima, Senior Economist, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN (ERIA)

“It is not only our role to have coordinating agencies and better regulation. Cooperation at the regional and global level is important to solve this issue."

Jayaprakash Murulitharan, Principal Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, Malaysia

“Only 9% of global plastic is being recycled. We lack a functioning market for second-hand materials... Approximately 5-20% of the plastic scrap in the global south has no market value”

Maria Tsakona, Senior Expert Waste Management, GRID Arendal

“We believe that if we work together, we can construct a prosperous, clean and beautiful world. Investments in developing proper circular economies is the way to go forward in decreasing the illegal trade of plastic waste.”

Chaowat Sukulworawit, Thai Customs Department

"You may wonder why the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) gets involved in discussions about environmental issues, such as the trade in plastic waste; the truth of the matter is that this sector is vulnerable to transnational organized crime and we believe that also the institutions of the criminal justice sector have a role to play to improve the legality of this sector.”

Giovanni Broussard, Regional Programme Coordinator, UNODC

Towards better data: Monitoring, assessments and related technologies

Scientific data is crucial in understanding the sources and drivers, dynamics and distribution of marine litter and the impacts on the environment. Data is also vital to formulate adequate management responses. The possibilities of new technologies, such as drones and remote sensing have improved data collection. Approaches from the global regional and national-level are needed. Better coordination is needed to avoid duplication of effort and filing of some key gaps. This will help us get “the bigger picture” and support better action planning. It is also important to involve the public whenever possible, and generate data products comprehensible to local populations through improved science communication.

The CSIRO Marine Debris Research Program is analysing data from beach clean ups to understand the effects of plastic bans. The Global Plastics leakage project validates estimates of pollution from land to identify hotspots and understand drivers of plastic pollution. UNEP is working to better understand the key hotspots, impactful polymers, products, life cycle stages and pathways in order to identify holistic solutions and key areas of interventions - and to support government converging towards instruments to implement the interventions. UNEP is also providing guidance for reports on the national level, and developing an online platform for user-friendly data on plastics which will be launched in 2020.

The UNEP CounterMEASURE Project utilizes multi-source satellite imagery to analyse the Mekong River and the project shares all their analysis and codes openly (CounterMEASURE website will be launched in 2020). The data includes statistics on seasonal plastic flooding patterns to identify peak discharge patterns and field data collections gathered with drones, to initiate beach clean-ups

In Indonesia, a National Plan put the focus on plastic pollution as priority. Joint efforts are underway between Indonesia and international partners to understand the hotspots through beach plastic debris monitoring. In the Citarum River, scientific outcomes were translated into action. In 22 sectors at the river delta, new technologies were used to empirically verify the modelling. The results showed that with 60% single use plastic, this is the highest contributor to plastic litter in the river delta. The majority of the items are plastic bags. The outcome of this research encouraged the local government of the 22 districts to take local regulations in action banning the use of single plastic goods. This example showcases the importance of linking data to target interventions.

Access to data on plastic flows and leakage points will allow for better understanding of how to keep plastics at the highest possible value chain - how we avoid polluting oceans and rivers. Standardized data collection and new technologies, such as drones and remote sensing, can be employed to better conduct and disseminate research. Citizen Science can be very useful to get the bigger picture of plastic debris pathways. Social Media can also prove useful in creating new citizen science platforms. Solutions could also be reached through a global data base, or project repository, incorporating information on production and consumption into analysis of plastic leakage and wastage, to better assess to address the extent of plastic debris.

"Establishing baselines enables monitoring the effectiveness and impact of policy interventions, whilst analyzing sources, distribution and flows of litter can inform effective interventions. Data collection needs to look not only at beaches near tourist sites, cities with high population density etc. but should support us to understand the overall litter situation nationally and globally to inform action."

Qamar Schuyler, Research Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Association (CSIRO)

“Estimating the sources of marine litter is highly complex. Japan has developed material flow analyses and is supporting monitoring efforts in the region. Focussing on the comparability of data and collecting data on transboundary movements is important. This requires international cooperation and harmonization of monitoring methods.”

Tatsuya Abe, Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan

"Indonesia is collecting national baseline data on marine litter with support from international partners. Calculation of baseline data will help to improve measures to reduce plastic pollution in line with national targets."

Nani Hendiarti, Director, Marine science and technology, Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs (CMMA)

"We have commensed a new Japanese-funded project using drones to collect information on pollution along shorelines. Collaboration among stakeholder and scientists is key to improve data collection in this very crowded space, to reduce redundancies and overlaps. Involving local people for data collection and sharing is key to driving change."

Suchana Chavanich, Associate Professor, Chulalongkorn University

Governance frameworks to manage marine plastics

Marine plastic pollution is the key issue which has raised awareness of the need for a more circular economy at the policy level. Now it is vital to consider how to improve policy coordination. Existing frameworks are considering marine plastics from various angles. It is now necessary to harmonise these frameworks and perspectives for effective regional and national marine plastic governance mechanisms. The region is taking marine plastic seriously, with many measures in place to work together on tackling marine plastic pollution. However, more can always be done - particularly regarding regional cooperation.

“The Basel Convention is one of the most comprehensive instruments we have on managing marine litter. We need to consider the amendments coming into force in January 2021, and use this framework to forge partnerships for solutions to plastic waste."

Karen Raubenheimer, Lecturer, University of Woolongong

“Five of the countries in SEA produced more than half of the marine litter in the ocean. Yet, under the regional framework and regional mechanisms, serious action is taking place.”

Vu Hai Dang, NUS, CIL

Marine plastic pollution has incentivzed a wider political movement to mainstream elements of a more circular economy into society.”

Yasuhiko Hotta, Programme Director, Sustainable Consumption and Production, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES)

NOWPAP shared a Regional Seas experience in the development of a regional action plan on marine litter based on initial assessment, with findings of ongoing efforts in the context of the action plan including regular regional reporting on status and trends as well as a range of guidelines and tools developed through regional activity centres.

Global instruments such as the Basel Convention, and efforts mandated by the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) provide opportunities to advance action in the region through partnerships and collaboration. There are opportunities to exploit synergies between existing and emerging regional frameworks, such as the COBSEA Regional Action Plan MALI and the ASEAN framework and action plan (under development). However, countries may engage in several international processes, often from different ministries or with different focal points. Managing this engagement requires strong national level coordination and policy cohesion to support international efforts. New regional centres such as the Regional Capacity Centre for Clean Seas in Bali and other centres (under development) can contribute to specific aspects of this work. The trade in plastic waste illustrates the need for regional cooperation, common frameworks, standards and harmonized approaches.

Chemicals and plastic

Toxic, or potentially toxic properties of plastics were discussed - including chemical additives in plastics, and chemicals adsorbed to plastics in the marine environment. Discussants reviewed the implications and existent/proposed solutions from different perspectives of the plastic lifecycle, including design, recycling, waste-water treatment and policies interventions.

Research was shared on the hydrophobic additives which are retained in marine plastics and microplastics, and the accumulation of additives. Research on landfill leachate shows that they are a major contributor to high BPA levels in rivers in Tokyo. High levels of BPA are also found in sewage near landfill sites. Wastewater is not treated adequately to address BPA levels and impacts are longer lasting. Studies show that chemical can be bioaccumulated and affect humans. More research is needed on chemical contents in plastic products.

Hazardous flame-retardant additives are contained in many consumer products. Recommendations to limit POP levels in plastic products call for better lifecycle management. Full-scale plants to separate PBDE/bromine-containing polymers exist, but may be inadequate to process plastics if stronger limits are legislated in future. Solvent-based solutions can also separate polymers, are however costly. A full-scale plant for packaging material recycling is in operation in Indonesia. Hence, there is a need for non-toxic alternatives to substitute hazardous materials that are currently difficult/costly to separate and manage appropriately. A substitution approach can achieve a successful phase out and replacement of hazardous chemical additives. The tools exist, but capacity building is required across the board for alternatives assessments. The Stockholm Convention includes provisions for the phase-out and substitution of hazardous chemicals such as POPs. However, the challenge remains that there are many different types of plastics and a huge range of chemical additives. Therefore, there is a need for a comprehensive list of chemical additives and their positive/negative impacts.

Consensus was shared that a reduction, restriction and phase out of selected plastic products is required. In order to reduce landfill leachate, it is necessary to separate organic and non-organic waste. Segregation of plastic waste from organic waste at the individual level would prevent conversion of plastic into more toxic byproducts. Chemicals and additives should be prioritised in the design and production stages since it is too late and too costly to mitigate their effects in later stages. Priority actions to address chemicals in plastics include: regulation and enforcement, research, transparency, awareness and education, phase-out and reduction

"Since start of PBDE production and use in 1970s a range of frameworks have been established to address the phase-out and management of hazardous materials. In China, both dry (light separation) and wet (density separation) methods are used for separation of polymers."

Chen Yuan, Basel and Stockholm Convention Regional Centre for Asia and the Pacific (BCRC-SCRC China)

"BPA and other endocrine disrupters are believed to cause cancer and other health impacts. Research on exposure to additives from plastic ingestion in biota shows that chemicals are absorbed into tissue."

Hideshige Takada, Professor, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology

Marine plastic pollution is chemical pollution. Moving to a circular economy will also require addressing/phasing out hazardous chemicals (e.g. POPs) contained in products and a lifecycle assessment of the impact of plastic products.

Roland Weber, International consultant, Stockholm Convention Secretariat​

The challenge of marine litter cuts across all aspects of society. Therefore, solutions must be integrated. There are many examples of valuable research and action in the region. It is necessary to consider how data can be managed better, since good data and good knowledge drives good solutions. It is valuable to acknowledge that there are data gaps on ecological impacts, leaching, health and chemicals - in order to move forward policy action globally.

There is an urgent requirement to shift from incremental change to transformative action. Good science forms the foundation of good solutions.