Letter: Pandemic hampers push to reduce plastic waste

While Covid-19 has led to increased plastic consumption (“Pandemic sets back fight against single-use plastic”, June 1), it has also exposed vulnerabilities in the global waste management system. This is particularly stark for fund-constrained communities in south-east Asia, home to the world’s largest sources of ocean plastic. Here, Covid-19 threatens to undo the progress made by fledgling initiatives to tackle plastic pollution.

One example is from Muncar, a coastal village in Indonesia. In 2017, private sector and government partners created Muncar’s first formal waste management system. Prior to this effort, more than 90 per cent of the community did not have access to waste services. Today, 54,000 people are receiving collection and 527 tons of plastic have been kept out of the ocean.

But now, critical funding is drying up. First, villages have diverted budgets to tackle the virus. New programmes are often first on the chopping block, threatening an important funding source: up to 20 per cent of the waste system’s revenue comes from local government. Collapsing oil prices have dealt another blow. In Muncar, the price for recycled plastics has fallen between 30-40 per cent to compete with cheap oil as a production feedstock. In a worst-case scenario, waste programmes will be suspended, forcing residents to dump or burn waste.

The UN has called on countries to treat waste management as “urgent and essential” to combat Covid-19 and prevent knock-on effects to public health and the environment. Countries should not have to choose between tackling the pandemic or ensuring resilient waste management — an important part of any public health system.

Andre Kuncoroyekti and Joi Danielson,
Project STOP,
Muncar, East Java, Indonesia

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