Addressing Plastic Pollution Through Extended Producer Responsibility in Southeast Asia

A man sorting wastes at a recycling facility in the Philippines.
The Extended Producer Responsibility is an environmental policy that extends a producer’s responsibility for a product to include its post-consumer stage. Photo credit: ADB

This article is published in collaboration with the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.

Numerous academic studies have unveiled Southeast Asia as a significant hotspot for plastic pollution, primarily due to the rising usage of plastic and the limited waste collection infrastructure. In response to this growing crisis, several countries in the region have initiated the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs, particularly focusing on packaging and container waste.

EPR, as defined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2001, is an environmental policy that extends a producer’s responsibility for a product to include its post-consumer stage. EPR schemes initially emerged in the early 1970s, pioneered by local governments in the United States and Canada, which employed deposit and refund systems. Since the 1990s, various developed nations have shifted the responsibility to producers for collecting and recycling diverse waste streams, encompassing packaging, home appliances, automobiles, and more. The preliminary draft of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, set to be deliberated during the 3rd International Negotiation Committee scheduled for mid-November, includes a reference to EPR. The committee was formed to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution.

EPR in Southeast Asian countries

While some Southeast Asian countries made initial preparations for EPR, particularly for e-waste, in the 2000s, they did not enact comprehensive EPR regulations until 2019. The mounting concern over marine plastic pollution has underscored the urgency of EPR programs in the region, especially for plastic containers and packaging.

In 2019, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry introduced the Roadmap to Waste Reduction by Producers, compelling manufacturing, food and beverage service, and retail sectors to submit comprehensive waste reduction plans. These plans target the production of 100% recyclable plastic products and the adoption of 50% recycled content by 2029.

In 2022, the Philippines enacted the Extended Producer Responsibility Act, along with its Implementing Rules and Regulations in January 2023. Enterprises in the country are now obliged to achieve a 20% recovery rate by the end of 2023, increasing to 40% by the end of 2024. Subsequently, annual increments of 10% are planned, reaching an 80% mandatory recovery rate by the end of 2028.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) launched an EPR scheme for e-waste management in July 2021. The NEA also announced the introduction of a deposit refund system for beverage bottles, starting on 1 July 2025, following a 3-month transition period.

Viet Nam revised its Environmental Protection Law in 2020 to implement EPR for various waste categories, with enforcement scheduled for January 2024 for packaging, containers, and tires, and January 2027 for electrical and electronic equipment and vehicles. Producers must meet mandatory recycling rates or contribute to the Environmental Protection Fund. Malaysia and Thailand are also in the process of preparing to apply EPR to packaging and container waste.

Challenges in applying EPR in Southeast Asia

Several challenges need to be addressed in the application of EPR in Southeast Asian countries. The first challenge revolves around logistics, as remote areas often lack efficient waste collection and recycling infrastructure, resulting in high transportation cost. Producers and producer responsibility organizations must devise strategies for organizing the reverse logistics of waste plastics containers and packaging from these regions to recycling facilities.

The second challenge involves handling bulky plastic wastes, such as expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam). However, various technologies, including compacting machines for expanded polystyrene and crushing machines for other packaging and containers, can help reduce volume and transportation cost.

The third challenge is a steady demand for recycled plastic products, as some may not meet conventional industrial standards. The establishment of industrial standards for recycled products, as seen in Japan, and the development of eco-labeling schemes, such as by the Standard and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia, can help stimulate demand for recycled materials. Initiatives like Green Public Procurement Programs can further ensure a consistent market for recycled products.

Roles of stakeholders

To successfully address these challenges, governments should formulate appropriate policies and regulations that not only place responsibility on producers but also ensure the quality of recycled goods by developing industrial standards and creating demand for recycled products through green public procurement. The central government should develop a comprehensive plan or strategy to extend waste management services not only to urban areas but also to rural regions. Producers should collaborate with governmental regulations to implement EPR effectively, while consumers play a crucial role in supporting EPR initiatives by actively participating in source separation, using proper waste disposal channels, and favoring recycled goods in their purchases.

This was first published by The Jakarta Post on 14 January 2024.  

Michikazu Kojima ​​​​​headshot.Michikazu Kojima ​​​​​
​Senior Advisor to the President on Environmental Issues,
Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA)

Michikazu Kojima is an economist specializing in environmental policies, especially, waste management and recycling in Asian countries. Prior to joining ERIA in March 2018, he was chief senior researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies in Japan from 2015. He has also contributed in the field of international cooperation, as a member of Expert Working Group of Environmentally Sound Management under the Basel Convention, a member of Technical Expert Committee for Green Industry Platform by UNIDO and the course leader on JICA training courses on recycling policy.  He holds a master of science on agricultural and resource economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

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