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.
Work in Pillar 1 has been seriously hindered by the impossibility of conducting field work due to Covid. However, we have finally progressed planning three surveys focused on investigating the structure and functioning of the informal sector involved in the collection, processing and trade of recyclable plastics. Two case studies are foreseen in India (in the cities of Surat and Vapi) and one in China (provisionally Shanghai). The surveys in India will start in November 2021 (while in China they will take place during early 2022). The surveys will involve local organizations and will be conducted by contacting and interviewing hundreds of informal workers acting at different levels of the value chain of recyclable plastics. A comprehensive questionnaire is under development while the survey methodology is finalized. Collected data will enable the formulation of an economic-material 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.
Concerning Pillar 2 we have progressed substantially in creating a scientific community of scientists and experts dedicated to the problem of plastic pollution. The International Knowledge Hub Against Plastic Pollution (IKHAPP) will be officially launched in November 2021. IKHAPP is already participated by 10 institutes in Europe and Asia and is in constant expansion. IKHAPP embodies a website dedicated to collecting, reviewing, organizing and presenting the most relevant, original and impactful scientific works emerging internationally in the area of plastic pollution. These are organized by thematic area. The website will provide summaries and highlights of the most relevant works. 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. Furthermore, IKHAPP will host (provisionally in December 2021) a first conference/Webinar on the theme: ?An International convention on plastic pollution and the informal recycling sector?.
We have so far published a position paper on the potential role of the informal sector in limiting plastic pollution. A manuscript on the relation between plastic pollution and chemical pollution in India is closed to submission for peer review.
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.