Opening Remarks at the Ninth Regional 3R Forum in Asia

Your Excellency, General Surasak Karnjanarat, Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand,

Your Excellency, Mr. Tsukasa Akimoto, State Minister, Ministry of the Environment, Japan,

Ministers of the Environment from participating countries,


Very distinguished delegates,

It is a pleasure to be with you to focus on how we can build a more sustainable future for Asia and the Pacific. A future which depends on reconciling our need for economic growth with our ambition to reduce carbon emissions and to protect the environment. A future which is contingent on our ability to reduce, reuse and recycle waste; the 3 Rs which are the focus of this regional forum.

Asia and the Pacific’s remarkable economic transformation has been a story of rapid urbanisation. As urban populations and economies have expanded, material consumption has grown significantly. The ever-expanding volumes of waste have become a serious environmental, economic and health challenge. Our region’s material footprint per unit of GDP is twice the world average. By 2020, chemical production is set to increase by 45 percent. The amount of solid waste generated by our cities will double by 2025.

This challenge is transboundary. Plastic waste is an excellent example. 95 per cent of plastic in our oceans is transported by ten major rivers, eight of which are in our region. Plastic waste in our oceans have detrimental impacts on tourism, fishing and shipping industries. In the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation region alone, the impact is estimated at $1.3 billion a year. The improved management and recycling of plastic could save consumer goods companies some $4 billion per year.

Yet the opportunity to generate socio-economic and environmental value through sustainable waste management is largely untapped. To seize it, more sustainable waste-management systems are needed. Systems which can divert and recover precious plastic resources, reduce the quantity of waste in landfills and return resources to the production cycle. Such systems can transform waste into a valuable resource.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific has been working with partners at national and local level to develop solutions for sustainable waste management. We have, for instance, supported cities in six countries develop small-scale, decentralized Integrated Resource Recovery Centres.
These are a cost effective, environmentally sustainable approach to solid waste. Based on local community participation and the adoption of 3R practices, the difference they can make is significant - from turning organic waste into compost for agriculture to the conversion of cooking oils into biodiesel. The bulk of solid waste in many cities is recyclable. If we could recycle it, our reliance on landfills and demand for precious raw materials would be much reduced.
Significant public expenditure savings could also be achieved. Up to fifty percent of municipal budgets in low and middle-income countries are spent on solid waste management, with up to 90 percent of expenditures focused on waste collection. Savings from better waste management and materials recovery could be reinvested in infrastructure, health and education. By using organic waste to generate compost, landfills can be used for longer, reducing costs and improving crop yields.

As part of our effort to reduce plastic pollution, we are keen to work with cities in our region to return plastic resources into the production cycle by linking waste pickers in the informal economy to local authorities. We are partnering with the authorities of Bangkok and Pune in India, to develop an inclusive approach to managing plastic waste. Scaled up, this plastic waste recycling in the informal sector could help reduce plastic production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Pune, a cooperative of informal waste pickers saves the municipality about $12.5 million a year. That’s 50 percent of the entire three-year capital budget of Pune's solid waste management system. In Bangkok, informal waste pickers in the Sai Mai District prevent up to 19,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year from the avoided fossil fuels in recovering plastic waste - equivalent to the annual emissions of 251 trucks and the charging 2.4 billion smartphones.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Turning waste into wealth will require innovation and tenacity. We will only be successful if we can build long term commitment from stakeholders across the board. A commitment to develop integrated waste management initiatives, regulations to manage the allocation or re-allocation of resources, and to support investment in advanced sorting equipment and collection infrastructure vital to reduce costs. Consumers, manufacturers, formal and informal waste workers, governments all have vital role to play in 3 R initiatives.

At the United Nations, we are committed to working with all of you to engineer waste and pollution out of our economy for a more sustainable future.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you a successful forum.