World Bank sees South-east Asia losing out on $8 billion a year by not recycling plastics

Plastic waste and other rubbish washed up on a beach in Koh Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand, on Jan 19, 2021.
Plastic waste and other rubbish washed up on a beach in Koh Samui, in the Gulf of Thailand, on Jan 19, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - South-east Asian countries lose out on as much as US$6 billion (S$8 billion) a year as most of their single-use plastics are thrown out rather than recovered and recycled, the World Bank said in a new study.

More than 75 per cent of recyclable plastics in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines are left to waste, representing a "significant untapped business opportunity" in the circular economy, according to the report issued on Tuesday (March 23).

Thailand, which has the largest petrochemical sector in South-east Asia, recycles the smallest portion of its plastic waste, at less than 18 per cent.

While Thailand has shown growing interest and increased investment in recycling facilities, few of them are linked to the country's resin manufacturing businesses, the study showed.

In both Malaysia and the Philippines, major brands in the packaging and fast-moving consumer goods industries are opting for more recycled content in their products.

However, most recyclable suppliers are small and medium-sized enterprises that often don't have the scale, management systems or technologies to meet the demand.

"These studies show that there is an untapped opportunity to reap environmental and economic benefits with clear and complementary interventions from the private and public sector," said Mr Ndiame Diop, World Bank country director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

Setting recycled content targets, mandating "design for recycling" standards, and imposing waste collection requirements per industry can unlock additional material value for South-east Asia, the bank said.

Governments should also consider increasing sorting efficiency, restricting disposal of plastic waste in landfills, and phasing out non-essential plastic items.

Building up the business model for plastic recycling will help divert waste from landfills, reducing the risk that it leaks into waterways, the World Bank said.

As much as 13 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the world's oceans each year, with Asia responsible for more than 80 per cent of it.

The Philippines and Thailand are the third- and sixth-worst plastic polluters in the world, respectively, according to World Bank data.