The increasing amount of waste and the generally lack of infrastructure for environmentally sound management, especially e-waste, plastic bags and food waste, poses a serious challenge for most Southeast Asia countries. Different types of wastes are often mixed together leading to environmentally unsound end-of-pipe management. Landfills remain the primary method to dispose of solid waste in addition to the inadequate waste segregation practice within the waste management systems. However, 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) movements and waste-to-energy systems are getting more attention in some countries in the region. In 2012, Southeast Asia produced 202,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day and this is predicted to double by 2025. The average municipal solid waste generation in 2012 was 1.03 kilogrammes per person, per day, and this is expected to increase to 1.38 kilogrammes per person per day by 2025. In addition, four of the top five countries that contribute 60 per cent of the marine plastic waste are from ASEAN – Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. However, campaign efforts have been made to tighten the control and disincentive the use of plastic materials and to encourage and incentivise the use of non-plastic substitutes, so far with limited success.
In Southeast Asia, the continued use of pesticides especially in agriculture, some of which are highly toxic and banned elsewhere, is one of the biggest challenges in chemical management. There is generally a fundamental lack of information on chemical use and distribution in the region and chemicals are often being dumped with little information or awareness of when and how to dispose of them in an environmentally sound manner. The biggest challenge for Southeast Asia in terms of chemicals management is the intensive use of, along with insufficient control over, pesticides in the agricultural sector. These chemicals are over-used and their residues are restricted and even prohibited for transboundary movements under several multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), requiring a number of Southeast Asian countries who are parties to refuse those imports. Some other chemicals, such as asbestos which are carcinogenic, despite being banned in other regions, are still being utilised in some Southeast Asian countries. According to the WHO, asbestos is one of the ten priority chemicals of high concern. Southeast Asian countries are still challenged by the inadequate legislative and institutional infrastructures and the lack of capacities and capabilities to environmentally sound manage those chemical waste.
There are four international conventions addressing chemicals management and related issues. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) of which focuses on ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns and encourages countries to ratify these conventions for better chemical and chemical waste management: The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and Its Disposal2, The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants3, The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade4, and The Minamata Convention on Mercury1 With the exception of the Minamata Convention, most ASEAN Member States have ratified the remaining three conventions.
The ASEAN Working Group on Chemicals and Waste (AWGCW) was established in 2015 following a decision by the ASEAN Senior Officials on the Environment (ASOEN) to change the name and functions of the former ASEAN Working Group on Multilateral Environmental Agreements (AWGMEA). The new Working Group’s primary purpose is to strengthen regional cooperation on chemicals and waste management including the implementation of chemicals and waste-related multilateral environmental agreements, such as the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions, the Minamata Convention, the Montreal Protocol, as well as other internationally agreed-upon systems, such as the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), the 2020 Goal of Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
ASEAN Strategic Plan on Environment Provides a forward-looking plan to promote cooperation and joint actions across ASEAN countries that would allow for environmentally sound chemicals and wastes management. Efforts under this Strategic Priority will focus on seven programmatic areas: (i) management of hazardous waste and other waste defined under the Basel Convention, (ii) cooperation on transboundary movements of [hazardous] chemical and hazardous waste, (iii) sound chemicals management, (iv) environmentally sound management technologies (est) towards green industries, (v) ASEAN presence in the global community; (vi) chemicals and hazardous wastes accident prevention, preparedness and emergency responses, and (vii) remediation of contaminated sites from chemicals and hazardous wastes.
ASEAN continues to actively engage in addressing global environmental issues in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. ASEAN Member States have made commitments on global environmental issues by ratifying major multilateral environmental agreements related to chemicals and waste management, such as, the BRS (Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm) conventions, the Minamata Convention, as well as the Montreal Protocol. As a result, all ASEAN Member States have significantly reduced the use of ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons to less than 1,000 tonnes per year since 2006 from as high as 9,000 tonnes in 1995. Many ASEAN Member States are also several years ahead of internationally agreed deadlines to end the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances. The status of ratification and relevant national reports of Parties can be accessed through the Convention websites5,6
Regional cooperation among ASEAN Member States in promoting capacity building, sharing experiences and best practices, and acting collectively to implement the MEAs have helped countries to build confidence and synergise their efforts to contribute effectively to addressing global environmental issues. These activities are carried out under the purview of the previous AWGMEA.
Key accomplishments under the AWGCW have included 1) sharing information and experience among ASEAN Member States, and promoting ratification and capacity building on relevant chemicals and waste MEAs, 2) promoting and developing joint ASEAN declaration and position papers at international negotiation meetings of relevant MEAs, 3) sharing information on national‐level implementation of chemicals and waste MEAs, and updates on the discussion and progress of relevant international process, and 4) implementing ASEAN cooperative projects, such as, the ASEAN‐UNEP International Environment Technology (IETC), which conducted joint regional studies on Waste Management, completed in 2016, with outcome reports on the management of general waste, electronic waste, and mercury waste. Studies on Waste Management and Mercury Waste inventory were implemented by Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), while the E-Waste study was conducted by Basel Convention Resource Centre-Southeast Asia (BCRC-SEA). The results and recommendations of the studies served as inputs for ASEAN in policy decision making.
An ASEAN Joint Declaration on Hazardous Chemicals and Wastes Management was adopted by the ASEAN Ministers on Environment on 26 April 2017 and presented at the joint Basel-Rotterdam-Stockholm conventions (BRS) Conference of Parties in Geneva, Switzerland, during 24 April to 5 May 2017. The Joint Declaration urgently highlighted the need to implement environmentally sound management of hazardous chemicals and wastes, particularly the recycling, recovery, and treatment of hazardous wastes, more effectively through governance, capacity building and exchange of information. I called upon ASEAN Member States to continue working closely, strengthen cooperation, and further mobilise capacity building and exchange of relevant information, including transfer of technology. It also highlighted the need to explore new additional financial resources towards the establishment of environmentally sound hazardous substances and waste management, and achieving the 2020 Goal of Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Joint Declaration also encouraged ASEAN Member States to continue its efforts, in accordance with agreed international frameworks and agreements, to significantly minimise the adverse impacts on human health and the environment caused by the release of hazardous chemicals and wastes to air, water and soil in the ASEAN region.
Over the next 10 years, the main objectives of the AWGCW Action Plan are:
To further strengthen regional coordination and cooperation in addressing wastes and chemicals- related issues including controlling transboundary movement of hazardous waste under relevant multilateral environmental agreements, such as Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm, and Minamata conventions, and Montreal Protocol as well as internationally agreed-upon systems such as the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
To achieve the environmentally sound management of hazardous chemicals and wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks.
To reduce the growing threats of hazardous chemicals and wastes to human health and environment through, among others, enhancing the regional cooperation in preventing the illegal traffic of transboundary movement of hazardous chemicals and waste, and capacity building related to good management practice in handling hazardous chemicals and wastes.
ASEAN Working Group on Chemicals and Waste (AWGCW) will be the main responsible body for the implementation of the programmes and activities of this Strategic Priority Area. Other relevant sectoral bodies and/or partners will be consulted and coordinated for cross-sectoral and cross-pillar activities.
The AWGCW will oversee the planning, technical and implementation issues under this Strategic Priority Area, while the ASEAN Environment Ministers and the ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment will provide policy and strategic guidance for its work. Lead countries of each programmes/activity under the strategic priority are expected to develop proposal of detailed implementation workplan, implement the activity in coordination with AMS and ASEC, and provide regular progress updates to AWGCW.
The activities under this Strategic Priority could be implemented through partnerships and regional collaborations with organisations working on chemicals and wastes management. Potential partners or platforms include the Regional Chemical Management Forum supported by the Swedish Chemical Agency (KemI), the Regional Forum on Environment and Health coordinated by UN Environment and WHO, United Nations Environment Programme – International Environment Technology Centre (IETC) and the Regional 3R Forum in Asia.
Activities could also be implemented through cooperation and support from Dialogue/Development partners, for example, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Both countries are currently providing technical and financial assistance to countries in ASEAN to build capacity on chemicals and waste management, such as, POPs, as well as in implementing chemicals and waste‐related conventions. There are civil society organisation (CSO) groups working on chemicals and waste issues in the region, for example, under the GEF network or Regional Chemical Management Forum (e.g. Basel Action Network (BAN), Ban Toxics and Pesticide Action Network), that can be invited to participate in relevant consultative or review workshops or to provide inputs and support during the planning, development and implementation process of the various cooperation activities.