GA Circular has launched a new report “Full Circle: Accelerating the circular economy for post-consumer PET bottles in Southeast Asia” in collaboration with The Coca-Cola Company.
The report provides for the first time, systematic and comparable baseline collection rates for PET bottles (one of the most recyclable forms of plastic packaging) in Southeast Asia and highlights the need for a fundamental shift in the approach to driving circularity of PET bottles.
On a mission to create a world without waste by driving the transition towards a circular economy in Asia, GA Circular says that it is vital to move beyond singular efforts and work collectively on efforts to drive material value through the value chain.
This report reveals that presently 54% of PET bottles sold in cities across the six Southeast Asian countries studied are collected-for-recycling (based on nine representative cities). The estimated national collected-for-recycling rate across the six countries is 26%. Across the six countries, a total of 660,000 tonnes of PET bottles was landfilled or leaked into the environment in 2018. This represents a loss of secondary material value of US$199 million.
PET bottles are 100% recyclable and have one of the highest intrinsic post-consumer material values amongst the materials commonly used for consumer-goods packaging in Southeast Asia. It is for this reason that PET bottles are one of the most commonly collected items by the informal sector.
The informal sector is the backbone of collection for PET bottles in the six Southeast Asian countries, contributing to 97% of all PET collected-for-recycling in the nine cities studied – and thus any solutions for Southeast Asia must include the informal sector.
A circular economy for PET packaging is 100% possible in the region and it is our sincere hope that the recommendations outlined in this report are fully considered by industry, policymakers and investors.
Multiple efforts have been initiated by the industry and government over the past decade to increase collection and recycling, however most of these efforts have ceased within one to three years or have not ‘moved the needle’ in terms of increasing collected-for-recycling rates. The past initiatives have been quantified and are a ‘drop in the ocean’ relative to the amount of PET bottles consumed.
Against this backdrop and the projected growth in PET bottle consumption of 886,000 tonnes in 2018 to 1.52 million tonnes in 2030, the most effective response to the challenges currently facing the post-consumer PET landscape in Southeast Asia is one that effectively and continually boosts the collection and recycling operations currently in place.
The report highlights key systemic solutions to drive circularity: an industry-led Packaging Recycling Organisation (PRO) focused on boosting the value chain (including benefitting the informal sector) coupled with supporting policies, the use of recycled content, and investments into increasing domestic recycling capacity. Similar models have seen success in comparable developing countries such as South Africa and Mexico. PET bottle collection and recycling rates have increased to over 55% in both countries. As of 2018, South Africa has a 68% recycling rate for PET bottle, with 100% of the material recycled locally.
Two other factors that play an important role are improved packaging design to improve the economics of recyclability, and national government and municipal efforts to impact source separation and separate collection.
Ashwin Subramaniam, Founder and CEO of GA Circular, said: “The report aims to shed light on the current realities for post-consumer packaging in Southeast Asia. A realistic baseline is critical in informing the direction and nature of solutions to be implemented and this is what this report provides. A circular economy for PET packaging is 100% possible in the region and it is our sincere hope that the recommendations outlined in this report are fully considered by industry, policymakers and investors”.
By publishing the report, GA Circular said it sought to bring an important missing piece to packaging circularity solutions in Southeast Asia, demonstrating the key levers for industry, investors and policymakers to build a thriving and robust recycling industry.
Michael Goltzman, Vice President of Global Policy and Sustainability at The Coca-Cola Company, said: “The report delivers a first-of-its-kind analysis of collection-for-recycling rates for PET plastic in key ASEAN cities and frames up a circular economy roadmap specifically tailored for the region, with a concrete set of recommendations geared towards interventions with the highest impact. At Coca-Cola, we are committed to executing these recommendations with our partners, and we have already begun to move in earnest. It is our hope that this report also helps to drive broader understanding, coordination and momentum in our shared efforts to tackle marine plastic pollution in Southeast Asia and globally.”
GA Circular calls on companies and industry in Southeast Asia to adopt voluntary PROs focused on value creation mechanisms and material end markets; and for governments to support with enabling policies and standards for the circular economy, such as food grade recycled content standards, recycled content targets, and source separation and separate collection.
Kristin Hughes, Director of the Global Plastic Action Partnership, said: “The findings of this report have clear and consequential implications for accelerating plastic action in Southeast Asia. They underscore the urgent need to scale up the region’s infrastructure for collecting and recycling PET bottle packaging, a staggering source of mismanaged plastic waste. And more importantly, they identify highly valuable opportunities – investments, innovations, and systemic policy changes – that must be leveraged in order to achieve concrete progress.”