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The Asia-Europe Environment Forum (ENVforum) was proud to co-organise a series of side-events at the 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) held in Madrid, Spain. The events were held from 5-12 December 2019, and covered a wide range of topics, including reducing the use of plastics, low carbon development, and climate change ambition for youth.

In particular, the ENVforum made great strides in bringing forth the messages of reducing the use of plastics and moving towards becoming plastic-free. The panel “Towards a Plastic Free ASEM – 3R Practices in Asia & Europe”, co-hosted by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), UN Office for Sustainable Development (UNOSD), and Climate and Sustainable Development Law and Policy (CSDLAP), explored examples from Asia and Europe to mitigate the plastic waste problem.

The panel recognised that banning plastics may be detrimental due to the gaps that exist. Instead, voluntary agreements and commitments among stakeholders, especially between governments and businesses, have great potential in reduction of overconsumption of plastic. The panel stressed that to ensure long-term reduction, there is a need to stimulate research and innovation to find suitable plastic substitute.

Several initiatives run by members of the civil society in Asia were showcased. In Indonesia, Bye Bye Plastics, an initiative started by 2 sisters has now grown into a well-known international movement of inspiration, youth empowerment, and saying NO to plastic bags. BambooLao, an initiative to reduce the use of single use plastic straws with bamboo alternatives produced by local villagers in Lao PDR, is on a mission to eliminate single-use plastics from hotels and resorts across Asia. They have produced more than 80,000 reusable bamboo straws and other bamboo utensils, using indigenous bamboo varieties and a proprietary natural treatment process.

While the panel saw a few notable initiatives in the ASEM region to promote reusing and recycling, the panel observed the lack of initiatives on promoting design for circularity; increasing the quality of recycling; and stimulating demand for recycled plastics. The panel also noted the importance of educating the public the distinction between reusables and recyclables, and best practices in recycling.

Moving forward, to effectively tackle the plastic problem, there is a need to deepen our understanding on this complex issue. Additionally, as a transboundary problem, there is a need to recognise the huge potential of addressing the issue beyond national borders.

More information on the outcomes from this side-event and others will be published on our project page very soon. Do visit the page to be updated with the latest developments.