Plastic pollution is one of the most conspicuous environmental challenges of the Anthropocene. Asian developing countries are believed to account for over 85% of terrestrial plastic inputs to the oceans.
Waste management in Asian developing countries often relies on millions of informal pickers, scrapers and handlers, and thousands of small-scale informal plastic waste transporting, sorting, shredding, remanufacturing units. Here, waste management solutions that fail to acknowledge or engage informal waste workers not only risk being ineffective but also depriving the primary livelihood from the weakest of the society.
The ASAP project focuses on 2 pillars:
Pillar 1: Analysis of the conditions, drivers and mechanisms that result in plastic waste mismanagement, littering and releases to rivers and the sea in Asia three largest countries: China, India and Indonesia.
Pillar 2: creation of an international network of experts and local interest groups gathering yearly in a series of thematic conferences, through the creation of a thematic knowledge hub.
We have conducted two surveys focused on investigating the structure and functioning of the informal sector involved in the collection, processing and trade of recyclable plastics in India from municipal waste. Municipal waste and its mismanagement is believed to be one may sources of plastic pollution. A third case study in China is about to start. The surveys involved local organizations partnering with ASAP. We contacted and interviewed hundreds of informal workers acting at different levels of the value chain of recyclable plastics. The analysis of the data obtained during the surveys is currently on going. These data will enable compiling a material and value flow model that will be used to explore policies and economic triggers that can enhance plastic recycling by these informal sectors and reduce plastic pollution.
ASAP scientists in partnership with UN-Habitat authored the report “Leaving no one behind: How a global instrument to end plastic pollution can enable a just transition for the people informally collecting and recovering waste” that will serve as base for a recognition of the informal recycling sector in the UN negotiations for the global plastics treaty.
Pillar 2 resulted in establishing the International Knowledge Hub Against Plastic Pollution (IKHAPP) and its IT platform ikhapp.org. IKHAPP embodies a research community dedicated to collecting, reviewing, organizing and presenting the most relevant, original and impactful scientific works emerging internationally in the area of plastic pollution and it is the main platform for dissemination of the project ASAP results. The aim of IKHAPP is to represent an authoritative and cohesive voice from the academic and expert communities to enhance dissemination of relevant scientific knowledge and inspire effective and workable national and international measures to curb plastic pollution. IKHAPP has already organized 3 expert working groups to review and synthesize the state of the art on important topics. Other similar initiative will emerge in 2023.
IKHAPP was recently selected as knowledge platform to serve the action for tackling plastic pollution in the ASEAN country as official part of the ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris. IKHAPP regularly publishes knowledge syntheses and organize workshops that are accessible through ikhapp.org. The website receives thousands of visits, weekly from all over the world. IKHAPP is also in dialogue with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the united nation to provide scientific advice on the use and management of plastic in agricultural sector around the world. A new expert working group on this topic has recently be established.
The ASAP project will target key sources and socioeconomic drivers of marine litter in Asia's three largest countries: China, India and Indonesia. The project will deliver quantitative assessments of plastic litter releases from source hotspots in the three countries, asses critical interlinkages between plastics waste and chemical pollution and improve the understanding of the socioeconomic determinants of plastic waste mismanagement. The project will also host a knowledge hub and a network secretariat for research and stakeholders in the region.
Mismanagement of both domestic and imported waste from the developed world is one of the key drivers of plastic pollution. In these countries, plastic sorting, collection and recycling is mainly processed by millions of marginalized informal workers in poorly understood plastic waste value networks (PWVN). This workforce plays an extremely important role in the society and for the environment through capturing value from waste and reducing environmental releases. With lacking or inadequate formal management in place, broken or dysfunctional informal value chains are the main causes of pollution.
Plastic litter also conveys hazardous chemicals both from additives and chemicals used in recycling. If released during litter ageing, they will pose a risk to marine biota and humans. The chemical pollution of plastic is a major impediment for a well-functioning and sustainable recycling sector, and a major hinderance towards circular economy avoiding polluted plastic in new products.
The project will elucidate the functioning and sustainability of informal PWVNs, its interconnectedness to chemical pollution and quantitatively assess plastic releases to rivers and the sea. ASAP will both generate empirical data from original surveys and leverage on existing regional projects and initiatives. The project will provide science-based support to local Asian governments in their efforts to address plastic pollution.