Plastic, as a material, has revolutionized the way we package food, distribute it and safely consume it. It is estimated that packaging accounts for more than a quarter of plastic worldwide, increasing the shelf life of many products and making food shopping more convenient for billions.
However, the world is waking up to the long-lasting impact that inappropriate management of plastic packaging is having on our environment, especially in our oceans. Ways to address the plastic problem are now being discussed at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi.
In some parts of the world such as Southeast Asia, the leakage of waste into the ocean has reached critical proportions, with four countries in the region contributing an estimated 30 per cent—or about 2.4 million tonnes—of all ocean plastic waste. This has not gone unnoticed among Asia’s food and beverage manufacturers members of Food Industry Asia, who are keen to address this environmental threat.
“We would like to strengthen industry partnerships with international organizations and UN Member States on marine waste and solid waste management,” says Edwin Seah, the association’s Head of Sustainability and Communications.
“Our members are very interested in innovation in packaging. As an industry, we want to work closely with governments on policy development, waste management, collection and recycling,” says Seah, who has over the past year participated in several events organized by UN Environment’s Asia office in Bangkok.
Members of Food Industry Asia include well-known consumer businesses such as Danone and Unilever, who have been working to promote innovation in solid waste management.
In early 2018, Danone’s popular Evian mineral water brand pledged to use 100 per cent recycled plastic waste in bottles by 2025. Unilever is trialing a groundbreaking new technology—CreaSolv®—to recycle plastic sachets.
Billions of sachets are sold annually, particularly in developing markets as a low-cost alternative to consumers who would otherwise not afford certain products. However, without a recycling solution, the sachets end up in landfills, waterways or the ocean.
The issue of plastic, and other solid waste, is also being addressed by the Republic of Singapore, which hosts Food Industry Asia’s headquarters.
“Since the late 1970s, Singapore has adopted waste-to-energy as a key solid waste management strategy. Singapore’s Tuas Nexus project marks a new chapter in the way solid waste and used water are managed in the country. It will combine an integrated waste management facility which will process incinerable waste, household recyclables, source-segregated food waste, with the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant, which will treat used water,” says Hazri Hassan, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations Environment Programme.
“This is the first project of its kind in the world to be planned from ground up, and it is designed based on circular economy principles by harnessing synergies via the food-water-energy-waste nexus. A good example of the synergies is the co-digestion of food waste with used water sludge at the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant to increase the yield of biogas production. Biogas will be utilized at the integrated waste management facility to increase the overall plant thermal efficiency and power generation. This will enable the integrated waste management facility to export more power to the electricity grid while allowing both facilities to be energy self-sufficient. Through such synergies, Singapore will save more than 200,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year,“ he adds.
In September 2018, UN Environment, which leads the Global Partnership on Marine Litter and its Clean Seas campaign, launched the Global Plastics Platform to support international efforts to tackle plastic pollution.
On 12 March 2019, delegates attending the Fourth UN Environment Assembly agreed on a solution for the sound management of waste and chemicals, to minimize the negative impacts of chemicals and waste.
The EU and its Member States, the African Group and Switzerland are leading the talks, urging “governments, industry and the private sector, civil society, the scientific and academic community and all other relevant stakeholders to intensify and prioritize efforts on the sound management of chemicals and waste, towards the achievement of target 12.4 [on achieving the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle] of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
Such proposed policies and priorities concerning global environmental issues are critical in guiding Member States in their actions to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals.