Better Managing Plastic Waste Could Combat Marine Pollution and Unlock Billions of Dollars for a Circular Economy: Southeast Asia

New Delhi: A series of World Bank Group studies launched today examine the untapped economic opportunities to promote plastic circularity and address marine debris in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Using a plastic value chain approach, the studies evaluate the plastics recycling industry and its role in supporting a circular economy and scaling up recycling efforts via targeted public and private sector interventions.

The country studies found that less than a quarter of plastics available for recycling in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand are being recycled into valuable materials. More than 75% of the material value of the plastics is lost – the equivalent of $6 billion per year across the three countries – when single-use plastics are discarded rather than recovered and recycled, representing a significant untapped business opportunity if key market barriers can be addressed.

“Mismanaged plastic waste across Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand is threatening key economic sectors such as tourism and fisheries, and impacting livelihoods and infrastructure, but there is strong government momentum in these countries to identify critical policies, and craft roadmaps to strengthen demand for all recycled plastic resins, level the playing field for global and domestic companies, and help drive a circular economy for plastics,” said Ndiamé Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. “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.”

The studies present the size and scale of each country’s plastics production and recycling industry, focusing on four key recyclable resins. The researchers consulted with resin manufacturers, brand owners, converters, aggregators, and recyclers across the plastic value chain to compile and develop baseline data for each targeted resin. They also undertook analyses to quantify the untapped market potential for each resin and identified the pressures that contribute to material value loss in each country.

While the studies found that barriers to plastic recycling are unique to each country, there are common actions that governments and industries could take to help Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand unlock additional material value. Recommendations include the following:

Increase sorting efficiency of post-consumer collection of plastics.
Set recycled content targets across all major end-use applications.
Mandate “design for recycling” standards for plastics, especially for packaging.
Encourage increase in recycling capacities (mechanical and chemical).
Implement industry-specific requirements to increase waste collection rates.
Restrict disposal of waste plastics in landfills and phase-out non-essential plastic items.
“These studies serve a critical need for country-specific data on how plastics are produced, used and managed in Southeast Asia,” said Rana Karadsheh, Asia Pacific Regional Industry Director Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Services at the International Finance Corporation. “They clearly highlight the importance of managing plastic waste as a valuable resource, and not solely as a waste management problem.”

Support for the Thailand and Malaysia studies was provided by PROBLUE, an umbrella multi donor trust fund, housed at the World Bank, that supports the sustainable and integrated development of marine and coastal resources in healthy oceans. Funding for the Philippines study was provided by the Korea Green Growth Trust Fund (KGGTF), a partnership between the World Bank Group and the Republic of Korea, that supports the mainstreaming of green growth through the World Bank’s lending operations. The three studies were conducted by a team from GA Circular – a research and strategy firm specializing in waste management and recycling.

Learn more about the country-specific studies on Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.