Breaking free from plastic

(From left) Grate, Wilson, Santiago, Oded Muhammad and his translator Yobel Novianputra as well as Mageswari and Mcquibban posing after the press conference.

A CLEANER environment was the focus of some 200 participants from local government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at a two-day forum in Penang.

The international event was organised by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific and the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) in collaboration with Seberang Prai City Council.

At a press conference, forum speakers discussed policies that will put an end to plastic pollution and usher in sustainable zero waste cities in the region.

GAlA Asia Pacific regional coordinator Froilan Grate said zero waste programmes were effective in stopping leakage of waste, particularly problematic plastics, into the environment.

“Our experience shows that through at-source segregation, decentralised collection and management of organics, we are able to reduce the volume of waste.

“Most importantly, we are able to identify problematic products and packaging that are beyond the capacity of our communities to manage, ” he said during a press conference at the Light Hotel in Seberang Jaya recently.

Grate said environmental groups like GAIA contended that waste should not be addressed through harmful end-of-pipe technologies like ‘waste-to-energy’ incinerators but through zero waste systems that address waste throughout the entire life cycle from production to end of life.

He said the proliferation of single-use plastics was one of the biggest drivers of plastic pollution.

“It has been claimed that they are pro-poor but they are actually anti-poor as they externalise the burden of managing them to cities and communities instead of the companies who profit from them, ” he said.

Grate said that long before single-use plastics were introduced into the market, better solutions like refill systems were already working well in many Asian communities.

CAP research officer S. Mageswari said that Asia had been wrongly portrayed as the poster child of plastic pollution.

“Actually, we have become the world’s dumping ground.

“Many countries have started taking action to protect their borders from foreign plastic pollution.

“A lot of communities in Asia are already going zero waste.

“The solutions are in our hands, ” she said.

Monica Wilson of GAlA US said she believed that every crisis came with an opportunity.

“The good news is that cities and citizens all over the world know that recycling is not the remedy.

“They are taking bold and visionary action to prevent plastic pollution before it starts through sound zero-waste and waste reduction policies, ” she said.

Wilson said several local governments in Asia were pioneering zero waste programmes through cost- effective investments in decentralised waste collection, composting, recycling and waste management infrastructure.

Jack McQuibban of Zero Waste Europe said there were many reasons to be hopeful now that individuals and NGOs as well as government and inter-government regulations had moved the zero waste system forward.

“In recent years, we have seen a huge rise in the number of cities and communities taking a stand against the rise of waste, ” he said.

He said citizen-centred models and local-level zero waste policies could lead to a substantial decrease in waste generation.

“Zero waste cities are becoming catalysts for innovation by creating new and sustainable business models, ” he said.

Mayor Edwin Santiago of the City of San Fernando, Pampanga, the Philippines, said: “With strong political will and stakeholder engagement, our city has realised the benefits of zero waste like a cleaner environment and savings for the city, ” he said.

Also present was Mayor Oded Muhammad Danial of Bandung City, Indonesia.

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