The big Asian clean-up: How Asia is tackling plastic pollution

monkey eats plastic bag

A long-tailed macaque monkey eating plastic bag in Bako national park in Borneo, Malaysia. Source: Shutterstock.

ASIAN countries are collectively initiating a clean-up effort to reduce unnecessary waste by banning or regulating the use of plastic bags.

The next time you’re heading to Taiwan, remember to think twice about using plastic, especially single-use plastic products such as straws and utensils. The island is set to ban single-use plastic drinking straws in several phases, starting with the food and beverage industry, according to Hong Kong Free Press.

This is coming not long after Taiwan introduced a recycling programme and charges for plastic bags.

Taiwan is not the only Asian country that has embraced the anti-plastic movement.

In 2008, prior to the Olympic Games, China placed a ban on all thin plastic bags and asked retailers to charge a tax on thicker bags. This led to a two-thirds reduction in plastic bag use.

China has also banned imports of plastic waste from the start of 2018, a move that shocked most of the UK and the US as they are now unable to send their plastic waste to China, forcing them to increase their domestic recycling capacities.

Before the ban, China was the world’s most dominant importer of such waste. In 2016, it imported 7.3 million tonnes of waste plastics, valued at US$3.7 billion, accounting for 56 percent of world imports, Reuters wrote.

Still using plastic bags for your grocery shopping? It’s time to rethink this. Source: Shutterstock.

According to Ocean Conservancy, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are five countries that are dumping more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined.

In Asia, trash often clogs waterways in cities, increasing the risk of floods, or gets swept up by wind and cast into the ocean. Due to poor waste processing infrastructure, in the five Asian countries listed above, only about 40 percent of garbage is properly collected.

Eliminating the use of plastic bags is necessary to decrease the amount of waste and pollution in a long term. Other countries in Asia that have plastic bag bans or taxes in place include:

Bangladesh

Bangladesh, a South Asian country to the east of India on the Bay of Bengal, was the first country in the world to impose a ban on plastic.

In 2002, Bangladesh banned thinner plastic bags after they were found to have choked the country’s drainage system during devastating floods.

Wastage plastic material and toxic chemicals from dying factories dumped in a canal in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Source: Shutterstock.

This kicked off a positive domino effect, encouraging other countries such as Australia and China to follow suit.

It also changed shopping habits and everyday lives, as shopkeepers in the Bangladeshi capital would refuse to deliver their wares in polythene bags.

Cambodia

Home to Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat, Cambodia is taking a stand against the use of plastic bags by charging supermarket shoppers for using plastic bags.

The government is also looking to ban the production, import, and distribution of the plastic bags that are thinner than 0.03mm and less than 30cm in width.

Four local unidentified girls of school age arrange large bags with different kinds of trash on a bicycle. Source: Shutterstock.

Cambodia plans to curb the usage of plastic bags by 50 percent by 2019.

The additional charges for the use of plastic bags will be implemented throughout the country by 2020.

Hong Kong

In 2015, Hong Kong imposed a levy that requires all retailers, from street hawkers to electronic appliance stores, to charge customers no less than HKD0.50 (US$0.064) for a plastic bag.

The ultimate goal of the levy scheme is to cultivate a habit of “Bring your Own Bag” (BYOB) within its society.

A young woman eating a popular Hong Kong street snack, the egg waffle, wrapped in a paper bag. Source: Shutterstock.

The government appears to be taking the new law very seriously, even slapping a Hong Kong grocery store owner a HK$5,000 (US$640) fine a year later for failing to charge customers for plastic bags.

The owner was the first to be criminally charged for not abiding by the new law.

India

One of the top polluters in the world, India, tackled their plastic waste issue by introducing a ban on disposable plastic, in accordance with a ruling by its High Court, starting with capital city Delhi.

It was introduced after complaints about the illegal mass burning of plastic and other waste at three local rubbish dumps, which has been blamed for causing air pollution, The Independent wrote.

Half of India’s states and union territories have introduced a blanket ban on plastic bags. Source: Shutterstock.

As such, cutlery, bags, cups and other forms of single-use plastic have been prohibited by India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT).

To date, Jammu, Kashmir, and 17 other states and territories governed by New Delhi have imposed a complete ban on the sale and use of plastic bags.

Indonesia

During the rainy season, thousands of tonnes of rubbish discarded in rivers and waterways washes up on Indonesia’s shores.

To put an end to plastic pollution, Indonesia has pledged up to US$1 billion a year to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic and other waste products polluting its waters.

That straw you’re using to sip your cold soda, the plastic bags holding your week’s groceries, and all those plastic containers you’ve hoarded from takeaways – they all have to end up somewhere eventually. Source: Shutterstock.

Also, in 2016, a tax on single-use plastic bags was trialed in 23 cities across Indonesia. The country launched a nationwide campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags, with guidelines for retailers to charge consumers up to IDR5,000 (US$0.37) for each plastic bag used.

Although the campaign was met with some resistance from both consumers and the industry, the Indonesian government reported a big reduction in plastic bag use. Moving forward, Indonesia is planning to table a Bill to impose a nationwide tax of not less than IDR200 (US$0.014) per plastic bag.

Malaysia

In 2015, a study published in Science Magazine by Jambeck and his associates estimated that, out of 192 coastal countries in the world, Malaysia is the eighth largest producer of mismanaged plastic wastes.

Malaysia produced almost one million tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste (waste not recycled or properly disposed of) in 2010.

plastic bag use

Asian countries have embraced the anti-plastic movement. Source: Shutterstock.

To curb the problem, a ban on conventional plastic bags in favor of biodegradable and compostable plastics bags and food containers officially took effect in Malaysia’s Federal Territories – Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur – in 2017.

Selangor also eased into the idea of banning plastic bags by first encouraging plastic bag-free Saturdays. The campaign later expanded to no free plastic bags on all days. Consumers who need plastic bags are charged RM0.20 (US$0.05) for each.

Taiwan

Taiwan Minister Lee Ying-yuan confirmed last month a blanket ban is set to be introduced in 2030 on all plastic bags, disposable utensils, and disposable beverage cups.

As of next year, food and beverage stores such as fast food chains must stop providing plastic straws for in-store use. And from 2020, free plastic straws will be banned from all food and beverage outlets.

Taiwan’s signature drink, bubble tea, is often drunk through plastic giant straws. Source: Shutterstock.

From 2025, the public will have to pay for takeaway plastic straws.