Alexandra Tracy, Green Finance Advisor of Friends of the Earth (HK) / 香港地球之友綠色金融顧問Alexandra Tracy
As the coronavirus continues to create difficulties for us in our daily lives, perhaps one surprisingly welcome outcome from the outbreak is the attention it has brought to another significant challenge for our region – dealing with waste.
Newspaper articles last week (https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3065049/coronavirus-china-struggling-deal-mountain-medical-waste-created) reported that China is struggling to deal with a “mountain of medical waste” created by the epidemic, noting that “tonnes of discarded face masks pile up around the country.”
The capacity of China’s waste treatment industry to handle the current volume of clinical waste is woefully inadequate. A significant number of dedicated incineration facilities were built after the SARS outbreak, but most are near the end of their operating lives, according to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
While medical waste is particularly in focus at the moment, this is just part of the larger problem of the waste treatment sector across the region. Solid waste, in particular single use plastics, is still managed extremely poorly, with huge amounts of plastic pollution ending up in the ocean.
In addition to the weak oversight of waste treatment in some Asian countries, insufficient investment is a major factor constraining improvements in refuse management. A recent Ocean Conservancy report identified a net financing gap for plastic waste collection of between US$28 and US$40 per ton in the top five ocean polluting countries in the world: China, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Policy makers and companies are beginning to prioritise better waste management, but the financial markets need to catch up. Just 4% of green bonds issued to date explicitly tackle waste reduction. Only three companies globally have completed specific fund raisings, although other corporates, such as Apple, have dedicated part of their green bond proceeds to waste reduction.
But there are also positive signs of investor interest in tackling the solid waste problem in Asia, especially targeting ocean clean up. For example, Circulate Capital recently announced the launch of a US$106 million fund to reduce plastic pollution in the ASEAN region by investing in treatment and recycling, as well as new materials. The company has reportedly identified more than two hundred potential investment opportunities.
According to the International Finance Corporation, as much as US$120 billion of value is lost through packaging that enters the environment. This presents a huge opportunity for investors. Better prevention, reuse, recycling and energy recovery could also achieve significant emissions reductions, which could be as much as 15% of the global total.
新型冠狀病毒疫症持續為人類的日常生活帶來麻煩，但這場疫症亦有可能同時提醒著我們、並帶出了亞洲地區另一重大挑戰 – 廢物管理。
根據國際金融公司（International Finance Corporation）的數據，產品包裝物料長期流入環境，造成高達一千二百億美元的損失。此數據正代表著投資者的龐大機會，當中包括更理想的預防措施、循環再用、回收和轉廢為能，這也可以實現大幅度減排，數量能高達佔全球總量的15％。
Photo source / 圖片來源：United Nations Environment Programme Flickr