Ivy Marie Mangadlao

Published: April 22, 2024

This article marks Earth Day 2024, observed on April 22. This year's theme is ‘Planet vs. Plastics’ emphasizing the urgent battle against plastic pollution.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) called on leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to step up at the latest round of negotiations for a global treaty to end plastic pollution. 

Southeast Asian organizations issued the call in an open letter on April 18, a few days before around 170 United Nations member states gather in Ottawa, Canada for the fourth meeting of the International Negotiating Committee (INC-4).

The meeting scheduled from April 23 to 29 seeks to develop an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. 

A call signed by over a hundred CSOs including Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific, Environmental Justice Foundation and Basel Action Network, stressed that Southeast Asia faces pollution throughout the plastic life cycle. The region is burdened further by illegal waste imports from developed countries. 

“Plastic waste exported by developed nations is not only shipped as plastic waste but also mixed in waste paper bales as non-recyclable flexible plastic scraps, snack packs, and dirty plastic cups and bottles, or multilayered plastic pouches, even soiled diapers,” the open letter read. 

It also noted a case where large quantities of plastics could also be hidden in paper imports, as in the illegal export of 130 tons of municipal waste—falsely declared as paper—from Australia to Thailand in 2022.

“It is essential that Southeast Asian leaders challenge the false narratives that blame our region for contributing to ocean plastic pollution while disregarding the impact of their plastic waste exports to us, and the fact that the biggest plastic polluters are large Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) corporations from the Global North,” the letter said.

CSOs emphasized that ASEAN can help in developing a successful treaty because the region already implements strong solutions and ambitious initiatives that may not only solve the plastic crisis locally but also elsewhere in the world.

“It is time for the ASEAN countries to collectively voice their ambition to end plastic pollution at INC-4,” the letter added.

The call urged ASEAN member states to negotiate a global plastic treaty that prioritizes the reduction of plastic production, ends the transboundary movement of plastic waste and waste colonialism, and eliminates toxins throughout the life cycle of plastics.

Break Free from Plastic said that INC-4 is a crucial reminder for the ASEAN leadership ‘to protect the rights of their people whose livelihoods, well-being, intergenerational and gender justice all hang loose on the fate of the prospective treaty.’

Marian Ledesma, Zero Waste Campaigner of Greenpeace Philippines who will be attending INC-4, said a key provision green groups advocate for is a legally binding measure for member states to freeze and phase down primary plastic polymer production at both global and national levels.

“These provisions should not only pertain to problematic plastics but to all plastics. Greenpeace recommends a reduction of at least 75% by 2040,” Ledesma told Climate Tracker Asia.

READ MORE: New plastics audit report lists top sachet-producing brands polluting Asia

Taking to the streets

 

In Ottawa, hundreds took to the streets to signal a global call to action. Indigenous leaders, frontline community groups, climate activists, youth leaders, healthcare professionals, waste-pickers, environmental advocates, and scientists marched from Parliament Hill to Shaw Center to demand a comprehensive treaty that not only addresses pollution but also safeguards both environmental and human health.

“[T]he elimination of toxic chemicals and increased transparency and traceability throughout the full life cycle of plastics must be prioritized,” said Chinkie Pelino-Golle, Regional Coordinator for the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) in Southeast and East Asia.

Challenges ahead

Jashaf Shamir Lorenzo, Policy Development and Research Head of BAN Toxics Philippines, said that one of the biggest challenges they have faced since the negotiation process began is pushback from industries and countries that heavily profit from plastic

“Concentrated and coordinated efforts from these groups have resulted in many delays in the process, and we need to be vigilant if we want to ensure a strong and effective treaty,” Lorenzo added. 

Lorenzo added that CSOs, advocates, and the general public have the capacity to pressure pro-plastics industries and countries, ensuring that they are accountable for their actions.

“We have to do our part in helping educate and get the message across to our negotiators, and we also have to make sure that information regarding these negotiations is made publicly available,” he said.

After INC-4, U.N. member states will gather once again in November 2024 in South Korea for the fifth and final round of negotiations.