Plastic Pandemic caused by COVID-19 Presents Opportunity for Green Recovery

Plastic Pandemic caused by COVID-19 Presents Opportunity for Green Recovery

By Mae Thiwari and Olubummi Temidayo Thomas

July 15, 2021

New report by AIT and UNEP brought to light the environmental impact and possibilities to build back better with a holistic waste management system, through plastic circularity principles.

With comprehensive data on plastics and plastic packaging sector collected over a year since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the report, the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) jointly held a webinar on ‘COVID-19 & Plastic Plight: A Reflection from One Year of the Pandemic’ to discuss how to create a solution for resource efficient and pollution free Asia Pacific. 

“The theme of this publication consists of good and bad sides of plastic during this pandemic. We look at it from two perspectives, one is sustainability and the other is hygiene. You cannot only promote hygiene while forgetting sustainability,” said key author of the report, Professor Chettiyappan Visvanathan of the Environmental Engineering and Management Program at AIT.

The report is packed with extensive data on how the COVID-19 has impacted the Plastics Value Chain and caused the surge of plastic demand in E-Commerce, Food Service, and Healthcare sectors while contributing to more waste in the Municipal Waste sector. At the same time, it also provides case studies of best practices and policy solutions in each sector, as well as Future Outlook – Plastic Circularity to Build Back Better a Sound Waste Management that can pave the way for sustainability.

The information available in the report can be beneficial to those working to tackle plastic problems such as activists, advocates, journalists, policymakers, public educators, and others. The data is easily accessible with the use of infographics, clearly comparing the information before and during COVID-19 pandemic as well as the trends in the future.

Joining the webinar, Dr. Mushtaq Ahmed Memon, Regional Coordinator for Resource Efficiency at UNEP’S Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, gave a keynote address focusing on creating solution by looking for opportunities to take part in Circular Economy, based on information presented in the COVID-19 and Plastic Plight report.

With a framework for creating Circular Economy, as the way forward to turn waste into resource, Dr. Memo addressed the importance of resource efficiency – the use of earth’s limited resource in a sustainable manner that lessens impacts on the environment, and the role in which AIT could play.

“You can see there’s an inequality in the resource efficiency across the region,” said Dr. Memon as he presented the correlation between Resource Efficiency and Climate Change as he further added, “Through international cooperation, or through academia, through AIT, we can bridge this inequality gap.”

On that note, Prof. Visvanathan concluded the webinar with the topic of ‘Journey to a Green Recovery’ by introducing an ongoing ‘CounterMEASURE’ project in collaboration with UNEP, supported by the Government of Japan, looking at the Promotion of Action Against Marine Plastic Litter in Asia and the Pacific. Its aim is to generate, share and disseminate scientific knowledge on plastic pollution in the Mekong, Ganges and selected rivers in Sri Lanka and Myanmar to inform policy and decision-making processes at the local, national, regional, and global levels. 

In addition, Prof. Visvanathan added that AIT and AIT Solutions – a knowledge transfer unit of AIT, are currently working on four different topics and are open for collaborations: 1) Religious events causing Plastic Leakage, 2) Airline Industry and Plastics, 3) False Information regarding plastic consumption, and 4) Plastic Industry.

“We have learned that mismanaged waste can act as a spreader of the disease and add burden to our environment and ecosystems – our existing waste management systems and infrastructure are poorly functioning and are incapable of managing wastes during pandemics,” said Prof. Visvanathan as he concluded with final remarks, “We need to step up our efforts to fight both COVID-19 and plastic pandemics.” 


COVID-19 & Plastic Plight: A Reflection from One Year of the Pandemic

Circular Economy for a Resource Efficient Asia Pacific – Executive Program on Circular Economy

Inputs in the ‘COVID-19 & Plastic Plight: A Reflection from One Year of the Pandemic’ report were partly drawn from regional experts participating in two Regional Webinars which discussed challenges and solutions to the ‘plastic pandemic’ in South Asia and Southeast Asia on February 26 and April 2, 2021 respectively.