AIT Joins Hands with UNESCO to Beat Plastic Pollution on World Science Day

General Press Releases Wednesday November 21, 2018 09:10
Bangkok--21 Nov--The Asian Institute of Technology

The Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) has joined hands with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to commemorate World Science Day for Peace and Development 2018. Special talks on Beating Plastic Pollution and a host of other activities marked the event organized at AIT on November 13, 2018.

Welcoming participants on behalf of AIT, Dr. Jonathan Shaw, Executive Director, AIT Extension, stated that while the problem is systemic, AIT must play a role in leading behavioral change. Introducing the speakers, Dr. Benno Boer, Chief of Natural Sciences, UNESCO Bangkok Office, set the tone by raising a critical question on the issue of beating plastic pollution. "Should this be voluntary or mandatory?" Dr. Boer asked.

Prof. Lawrence Surendra, Chair, Sustainability Platform Asia, reminded the audience that while natural polymers such as rubber and silk exist in abundance, they are not implicated in environmental pollution since they do not persist in the environment. Highlighting the damage caused by single-use plastics, Prof. Surendra stated that these account for approximately half of all plastics produced. He added that roughly eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the world's oceans every year, the majority of this waste coming from five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Entrepreneur and tourism professional Henning Schwarze described plastic pollution as global warming's companion. "Sustainability should be the new normal," Henning said while highlighting the need to raise awareness and mobilize for a better future. Quoting examples from citizen sciences activities, he suggested the greater involvement of science, society, and young people in implementing meaningful change.

The experience from Rwanda was the theme of the talk delivered by Remy Norbert Duhuze, Director, Environmental Regulation and Pollution Control, Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA). Plastics invaded Rwanda in the 1980s, and in August 2004, the use and manufacturing of plastic bags of less than 60 microns was banned. Since then, other administrative and legal measures have followed, including the launch of a sensitisation and awareness campaign. "Today, not only is Rwanda cleaner, but Kigali has been rewarded for being the cleanest City in Africa," he added. Stating that it is difficult to achieve a 100-percent plastic-free situation, Mr Duhuze highlighted the challenges being faced and delineated future steps designed to combat the problem.

Bioplastics was the focus of the talk delivered by Dr. Jim Jem, Senior Advisor, Global Forum of Human Settlement. In addition to the 3R formula (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), Dr. Jem posited three additional R's: Replacement (by bioplastics), Research, and Regulation. He spoke about the current use of bioplastics in commercial applications, stating that it can replace coffee cups, food packaging, apparel, and a host of other items.

A panel discussion moderated by Dr. Jonathan Shaw followed the talks. The event at AIT followed a joint effort with UNESCO and the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) held on November 12, with participation from Dr. Kanyawim Kirtikara, Vice Minister of Science and Technology, Thailand, Mr. Shigeru Aoyagi, Director of UNESCO Bangkok, and Dr. Eden Y. Woon, AIT President.

Photo caption: Panelists at the "Beat the Plastic Pollution" talks are, from left Dr. Jim Jem, Henning Schwarze, Prof. Lawrence Surendra, Remy Norbert Duhuze, and Dr. Benno Boer.

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