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CLOSING THE LOOP: Scaling up Innovation to Tackle Marine Plastic Pollution in ASEAN Cities

South East Asian countries contribute to over half of land-based sources of marine plastic pollution globally. Fast growing cities with underdeveloped waste management systems in South East Asia are responsible for as much as 60% of plastic waste leakage into the environment, with 75% of landbased sources of marine plastic pollution coming from uncollected waste and 25% comes from leakages in the municipal waste management systems. Plastic pollution is also trans boundary — up to 95 per cent of plastic in our ocean is transported by ten major rivers, eight of which are in Asia.

In response to this challenge, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in partnership with the Government of Japan are undertaking a new project which will reduce the environmental impact of cities in ASEAN by addressing plastic waste pollution and leakages into the marine environment. In support of the local implementation of the ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris, the project aims to make municipal plastic waste management processes more circular to increase the rate of recovery and reduce the leakage of plastics into the marine environment, supporting the implementation of SDG 11, 12 and 14.

Project Strategy

To support achievement of this goal, the project will:

1. Develop an innovative digital tool to assist local governments in ASEAN to monitor and visualize plastic waste leakage with a view to prevent this waste from entering water streams and the ocean and improve identification of waste generation hot spots and improve their management; and

2. Based on the application of the digital tool, engage a cluster of ASEAN cities across a coastal basin or watershed area to develop joint action plans, policies and bankable strategies to address marine plastic litter. In alignment with national and regional plans, this enables a system of cities in each country to apply a circular economy approach in managing their plastic waste streams. The project will leverage this to accelerate action on plastic waste in ASEAN and share these commitments through relevant regional intergovernmental fora.

Output 1: Officials and stakeholders in four cities in ASEAN have the knowledge and skills to use innovation and smart technologies to monitor, assess, report on, and sustainably manage plastic waste.

Activity 1.1: Develop a baseline assessment of the regulatory environment and plastic waste value chain for project cities which visualizes plastic material flows using sensors, drones and geospatial mapping technology and identifies public, private and consumer actors across the waste value chain. This assessment of the enabling environment, including digital readiness, at the city level will inform the development of the digital tool and the corresponding policy and investment strategies under Output 2, to be tailored to the local context.

Activity 1.2: Develop and apply through dedicated city level and regional capacity development trainings, the digital development tool for local governments in project cities that captures data and analytics from the baseline assessment, allowing for identification and prioritization of policies and interventions to support more effective implementation of existing solid waste management plans under Output 2.

Output 2: Cities in ASEAN countries have knowledge, motivation and tools to develop policy and investment strategies in alignment with regional plans, to apply a circular economy approach in managing their plastic waste streams.

Activity 2.1: Design plastic waste management policy interventions following application of tool under Output 1, which promote prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse of plastic waste with national government, private sector, consumers and community waste actors in project cities. These can include upgrading of waste segregation and sorting areas, ecolabelling schemes and phasing out of single use plastics with business retailers such as supermarkets.

Activity 2.2: Develop local action and investment strategies in support of the implementation on national and regional plans to operationalise the policy options designed under Activity 2.1 ensuring that the plans are directly communicated to potential financing institutions, including from Japan.

Activity 2.3: Disseminate and advocate for more effective plastic waste management policies in project countries to support voluntary commitments to accelerate action on plastic waste in ASEAN and other regional intergovernmental fora (ESCAP Committee on Environment and Development, Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development) as well as enhanced visibility of the project at the 2020 UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon.

This initiative is implemented by ESCAP’s Environment and Development Division based in Bangkok, in close partnership with national and local governments in South East Asia, ASEAN, the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies and other partners. The project will run until April 2021, building a foundation for future collaboration. In the longer term, the knowledge gained in pilot cities will help to generate funding opportunities to expand the approach in the region and research plastic waste streams and the environmental impacts of cities in more depth to build capacity further.

For further information, please contact ESCAP at escap-edd-suds@un.org 

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