Less than a quarter of plastics available for recycling in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines are being recycled into valuable materials, a recent study found.

A series of World Bank Group studies examined the untapped economic opportunities to promote plastic circularity and address marine debris in the three Asean countries.

Using a plastic value chain approach, the studies evaluate the plastics recycling industry and its role in supporting a circular economy and scaling up recycling efforts via targeted public and private sector interventions.

The country studies found that more than 75 per cent of the material value of the plastics is lost — worth around US$6 billion per year across the three countries — when single-use plastics are discarded rather than recovered and recycled, representing a significant untapped business opportunity if key market barriers can be addressed.

“Mismanaged plastic waste across Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand is threatening key economic sectors such as tourism and fisheries, and impacting livelihoods and infrastructure, but there is strong government momentum in these countries to identify critical policies, and craft road maps to strengthen demand for all recycled plastic resins, level the playing field for global and domestic companies, and help drive a circular economy for plastics,” said Ndiamé Diop, World Bank country director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

“These studies show that there is an untapped opportunity to reap environmental and economic benefits with clear and complementary interventions from the private and public sector.”

The studies present the size and scale of each country’s plastics production and recycling industry, focusing on four key recyclable resins.

The researchers consulted with resin manufacturers, brand owners, converters, aggregators, and recyclers across the plastic value chain to compile and develop baseline data for each targeted resin. They also undertook analyses to quantify the untapped market potential for each resin and identified the pressures that contribute to material value loss in each country.

While the studies found that barriers to plastic recycling are unique to each country, there are common actions that governments and industries could take to help Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines unlock additional material value. Recommendations include:

▪︎Increase sorting efficiency of post-consumer collection of plastics.

▪︎Set recycled content targets across all major end-use applications.

▪︎Mandate “design for recycling” standards for plastics, especially for packaging.

▪︎Encourage increase in recycling capacities (mechanical and chemical).Implement industry-specific requirements to increase waste collection rates.

▪︎Restrict disposal of waste plastics in landfills and phase-out non-essential plastic items.

“These studies serve a critical need for country-specific data on how plastics are produced, used and managed in Southeast Asia,” said Rana Karadsheh, Asia Pacific Regional Industry Director Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Services at the International Finance Corporation.

“They clearly highlight the importance of managing plastic waste as a valuable resource, and not solely as a waste management problem.”