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Annupa Ahi

VP Public Affairs – Head of Asia Business Development and Strategy at TOMRA

05 - The state of EPR in Asia


It’s been almost a year since we had Annupa Ahi, VP Public Affairs, Head of Asia at TOMRA, on the show to talk about the state of EPR in Asia. Today, we’re happy to have her back to talk us through what’s happened since then. Has intention turned to action?  


Listen to the episode below, or use your favourite platform (Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcasts)


Show Notes


  • In fact, UNICEF, in its 2022 review of climate action in Asia and the Pacific, stated climate change arguably poses the single greatest challenge. [01:11]

  • Temperatures are actually rising 2 times faster in Asia than the global average. [03:56]

  • It is claimed that the rising waters will impact, you know, mega cities like Mumbai, Dhaka and even Jakarta, which is why Indonesia is already planning to move the populated capital more than a billion people who are being. [06:11]

  • So, when we talked last year, you said Singapore was leading the way. [13:21]

  • Countries like India and Vietnam have announced ambitious EPR legislations. [14:27]

  • In general, and the impact on the economy as an outcome of it, but we have to really think about if these nations are flourishing. [17:25]

  • Paris Agreement is a great example of that and we cannot play the blame game anymore. [18:54]

  • Final thoughts. [21:21] 


Mithu: Welcome to Tomra talk circular where we explore how businesses, municipalities and governments are collaborating towards a circular economy, my name is Mithu Mohren. 

The renewed focus on climate change and biodiversity through unprecedented collaborative efforts such as the UNEP binding instrument to fight plastic pollution on a global level, and the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal late last year in which a landmark agreement was reached to guide global action on nature through to 2030 are all impressive moves in the right direction. 

But as we all know, time is ticking and in fact, our first episode this year a guest was a young man of around 19 years who expressed his fears and frustration of a future in which his generation and those after might have to bear the brunt of decisions of the past and today one region that is especially burdened by all of this is Asia. 

In fact, UNICEF, in its 2022 review of climate action in Asia and the Pacific, stated climate change arguably poses the single greatest challenge, undermining the fundamental rights of every child and youth in countless ways through rapid decline in biodiversity, air pollution, lack of access to safe and sufficient weather, and lack of access to sustainable infrastructures. Why is that? 

We have the knowledge we have the technology to make a large dent and at least one aspect of slowing the effects of climate change and sustaining biodiversity. So, one could ask what is the problem? It's been almost a year ago that we talked about EPR or extended producer responsibility in Asia on this program. 

In that episode, we heard that policy was not yet a mainstay instead a genuine intention and that Singapore was leading the way. But what's happened since then has their urgency and action grown, back again is Anupa Ahi vice President of Public Affairs and head of Asia, Tomra. Along with serving as a consultant to policymakers on how to set up EPR schemes, ANUPA, as a passionate speaker and I've heard her speak, I can confirm that. In a major sustainability conference throughout Asia, Annupa welcome back. 

Annupa: Thank you, Mithu, and thank you for that very kind introduction and everything that you said in setting the context is true, as I hope we will discuss today. 

Mithu: Yeah, that's why you're here and we will discuss it so Annupa, as you said? You were here about a year ago and so much has happened since then catastrophic weather events, massive inflation as a result of dwindling basic resources and upheaval in the political world in general. Could you take us back to a time when the state of affairs wasn't quite so severe, let's say a year or two ago? Where was Asia when it comes to climate change, then? 

Annupa: Well, Mithu Asia was always in the middle of these discussions, even a year or two ago even before that, I will say, but mostly as a source of climate change and not so much as the region leading the solutions to counter it as it should have been from the start. 

You have to remember that Asia is also probably the most impacted region on the globe, and it is facing a climate emergency. As you pointed out, you know temperatures are actually rising 2 times faster in Asia than the global average, so if you really look at. 

In general, any of these agreements that you also kind of alluded to, you will observe that none of these and I say this, none of these are on track to meet any targets and I believe that one of the biggest reasons for the failure of these negotiations can be attributed to kind of the lack of consensus between developed and the so-called developing countries, or mostly Asian countries, I also believe that it's also the weak structure of these arrangements that do not include specific impacts to these Asian countries while designing for greater kind of common goals. 

If we can learn anything, for example, let's say from the Kyoto agreement and it excluded the fastest or most prominent Asian economies and hence I will say it was not successful. 

So, look where we are is not a comfortable position at all. The truth is that we should all be uneasy with the status of these agreements. You know, our experts know that Paris Agreement is not enough to prevent the global average temperature rising. The failure of these agreements is going to cost our future generations. Let me tell you a nice story, I just met a reforestation champion on a plane in India when I was travelling. He was a young man full of whole driving efforts. He left a great job in I believe in Germany and came back to this Himalayan region for reforestation, and he was very aware and was, you know, part of really great programs, but in the same breath, he was also resigning to the fact that Himalayan caps, Himalayan snow caps will melt no matter what. 

In fact, he even said we should prepare for that more than anything so you know the problem is that even the believers do not believe that they have a solution, but it's also not true that 2-3 years ago this was not severe. You know the warning signs as you've also pointed out were already turning into reality, you know, torrential rains in South Asia, Australian bushfires and not to forget the multiple cyclones in about mid-century it is. 

It is claimed that the rising waters will impact, you know, mega cities like Mumbai, Dhaka and even Jakarta, which is why Indonesia is already planning to move the populated capital more than a billion people who are being impacted so I don't think Asia has a choice to not act now. 

Mithu: It sounds like all of us don't have a choice not to act now. 

Annupa: I would agree. 

Mithu: Maybe even more so in in Asia, what has the as you just said the situation has been catastrophic for quite some time. What about the ongoing crisis? When it comes to managing climate change has that impacted anything? Has it made things even more urgent? 

Annupa: I will say that I do see or observe a sense of urgency with most of the Asian governments they are sitting on top of, If they are part of the Paris Agreement, they're also setting their own, for example, carbon neutrality goals. China is set before 2060. Japan and Korea are pledging by 2050. But we kind of know that you know more needs to be done and accelerate this transition to this low carbon economy and we really need to have very bold and ambitious goals for changes in both production and consumption patterns as well as transformation of energy, transportation, recycling outcomes and even land use. 

So, I this I guess me to the big question can fiscal and environmental policies help address the climate change problem in Asia? I think they're trying to be addressed separately through these tools, but we need to kind of start thinking about the collective impact of bringing these tools together. 

And I think one of the critical parts of enabling this transition will be managing the kind of potential side effects that everyone is so afraid of, you know, which is disruption to coal based or plastic economies and also the societal impact of it. We are home to five of the ten largest emitters in the world. 

So, China, India and others and accounting for 45% of global GHG emissions due to also the significant population, which is huge, you see. So it really if you want to see any substantial impact if you really want to move the needle, should any other region be the focus? 

You know, so you can talk about net 0 pledges, and you can talk about all of those things. But I think unless you connect those sectors to economic growth, then you are no longer relying on pledges, and I also think waiting for outcomes until 2040 or 50 or I would not even consider 60 I think it's too late we have already missed the bus on that, I think. 

Mithu: Yeah, and that is also one thing that worries me is are we waiting too long to actually make an impact? We need to act now, talk about it, we need to do something, and it sounds like even more so in Asia. 

Annupa: Absolutely  

Mithu: Yeah, as I mentioned before, when you run the program about a year ago, we talked about EPR and we talked about the five elements of a successful EPR system, those being circularity, performance, system integrity, convenience and producer responsibility and I asked you from all of those, which is the most important, the one that we've got. To get right, to get to a circular economy and I know you've been working on various government agencies and policymakers trying to help them understand the importance of EPR in getting systems set up to work effectively in the long haul and you help us understand which of these are well accepted meaning from the five elements and which ones are more of a challenge. 

Annupa: I will say that when I speak to easy acceptance at different layers will translate differently in actions. But I will say in principles, almost all these pillars are understood and some of these that I mentioned, if you remember also in our last discussion Mithu that you know the concept of reusing Asian context is very, very embedded, so circularity is not a very difficult concept to get people to understand and even the policymakers understand the importance of it. 

We keep hearing this word circular economy all the time, but I feel that consumerism is leading the shift away from reuse and it is the different societal matter that need, you know, really calls for its own discussion my bigger problem is not the acceptance of these pillars or the understanding, but in context of EPR, I found that the legislative design doesn't necessarily support the execution realities, so I feel that they are being dealt with separately so the policymakers are doing the best practice models, but they're not being translated into what will it entail to make it happen on the grounds. And I think this disconnect is the blind spot of the system. 

That is one of my major I guess messages and the other challenge is you are you were asking about the challenges which pillars are the challenges? But I think the challenge is more in the continuity or the robustness and the longevity of the system per say. Therefore, I will point out that performance becomes the critical element in defining these frameworks and that. You could say is the kind of the bigger challenge also, I think convenience as we understand or describe in EPR as a pillar is different to the convenience that people are used to Asian lifestyles are very convenience driven, Mithu, you have travelled their and you will understand. You know, we have to be mindful that convenience can translate into many solutions that may actually look perfect on paper, but they will not be effective, so that is another gap. 

So let's also not forget that there is no story without data, there is no trust, there's no measure of success. How you're going to claim what you are claiming. So, from my part I encourage all policy makers to waive system integrity principles into the design very, very strongly. I think this is an overlooked gap or the weakness in the system. It's kind of there, but it's not there, so there's ways to go around it. I guess there's also challenges in data itself, but. 

As a result, you know the agent systems are relying heavily on small kinds of quick fix bat cheat disjointed solutions that are neither auditable nor reportable. So collectively, if we could address these weaknesses and strengthen the policy framework for a very strong execution, we would get there. 

Mithu: I think there's hope. It's just actually putting it into action and it's good that you talk about the performance aspect because again, I asked the long haul, and it sounds like that's the part that we need to focus on. 

Annupa: Absolutely, this is important. 

Mithu: OK. So, when we talked last year, you said Singapore was leading the way, is that still the case or do you see other countries pulling up? 

Annupa: I can say with some optimism that many countries in the region are exploring solutions that will address their objectives and they are setting the intent to act easy Asia is facing a predicament of responding to its many faces in the value chain it is the source, it's the culprit, It's also the victim. But what it's not is the Solutionist leader and, in that regard, Singapore has taken some big steps. 

They are implementing a very scientifically designed EPR system face by face to their legislation for the beverage container return scheme that we talked about that I mentioned last time is in its final draft stage now, and their E-waste collection system is already in in place, so we or the rest of the Asia can look at Singapore as kind of leading the way in this space. But countries like India and Vietnam have announced ambitious EPR legislations they are looking at a variety of material categories and you see they definitely have the intent through a legislative framework to achieve these goals. But I will say this, Mithu. I've said this before I said this at a recent summit politicians can come and go, heroes can come and go, pledges can come and go, but you know the law is there to stay. So that's where all the focus should be. 

Mithu: Now that's a fair assessment talked about Singapore, but are there concrete success stories that you can help us understand just to give us some hope of what's going on there? 

Annupa: In kind of the modern face of PR. Attempts are being made. I think the launch of a PR framework or the announcement of a legal framework at federal level. In India itself as a success story, it took some time to do an overall assessment, have all the stakeholder opinions. We've woven into it to take expert feedback. We also played some role in that, and Vietnam is the same and they're willing to really look into the gaps that we have pointed out in the existing framework. So, they are baby steps of success, but in terms of a real physical outcome, this is not by any means an easy task Mithu cause you EPR is a very scientific system, but it cannot be copy pasted so the work is in progress, but I would still say in terms of a real physical outcome, we have Singapore. As kind of leading the way in terms of the modern EPR outcomes. 

Mithu: And we can only hope others will follow and it sounds like they're already starting. They're certainly optimistic. 

Annupa: Yes, there is hope. 

Mithu: Yeah, there is hope always. You've mentioned just a second ago that you mentioned that you spoke of the summer that was the World Ocean Summit in November. I believe it was, and that was going on at the same time as the INC one was going on in Uruguay. 

Annupa: That's right. 

Mithu: And if I remember correctly, you on the panel that you were on, you talked about the importance that Asia plays in the role of plastic pollution and just a second ago what did you say? 

They're the producer, the culprit and the victim. So obviously they do play a role somehow. Can you tell us a bit about that? 

Annupa: Ah yes, I can go on about the experience at the summit it I was very fortunate to have been able to attend, you know, listen to some intense debate also have the opportunity to speak and express the biggest focus was UN treaty and Asia's role in it. There was also a very big focus on disruptive economies. So, we talked in fact, with policymakers and all the stakeholders about the mechanisms that will limit the impact of plastics. 

In general, and the impact on economy as an outcome of it, but we have to really think about if these nations are flourishing or are dependent on plastic economies that are contributing through their economic growth. Then what is the consideration for this post treaty world where clearly, we will lower the I guess the reliance on plastic-based economies. What we really have to think about is how will these countries transition to? Are recycling based economies and how can the economic policies enable this transition, and what are the tools for that extended producer responsibility? 

I don't think we can talk about this enough. I know this feels like a lot of repetition, but trust me, I think repetition is good in this case. So that is a very important economic tool, and you know we kind of explored what it meant and what role was Asia playing in this so, there was clear consensus on some aspects of this approach. But some very direct questions were raised. Everyone felt that treaty, or I would say the general sentiment, was that the Treaty is a great step, but we will need to be fast. 

You know this cannot be another slow, long drawn discussion. We will have to be effective, so we'll have to have these little agile systems and we will have to be strongly policy-based agreements voluntary participation is not working Paris Agreement is a great example of that, and we cannot play the blame game anymore. I mean if there is plastic in ocean, then it's for everyone to deal with it, but. The question that. I kept asking with my Co panelists and the people is Asia leading enough one and is Asia in the center of these discussions and how I don't see many Asian countries leading the discussions. I don't see them being part of the high ambitions, you know, group of countries. 

Mithu: Why do you think that that is? 

Annupa: I think it's the fear of this whole disruption on the reliance of on plastic economy and you know, the Treaty will be legally binding, as I understand, and so they are worried that they will be asked to jump into some kind of transition, which they're not necessarily prepared for, which is why I go back to the point that someone has analyzed the post Treaty world for these countries and then kind of have accelerated kind of science and policy and economy-based solutions that will then give them the assurance that this can actually mobilize real action and lead them to a world that actually might be giving them better options in terms of economic growth than they understand right now and that part is very, very important. And this might have needed a lot of work as well. 

Mithu: So basically, no blah blah give me the facts, tell me what this is going to be like in a realistic world, and then we'll move forward. 

Annupa: Yes, you see, this instrument can be a force. It can mobilize real action, but it will have to take the reliance on plastic economy into consideration. It will have to plan the transition to post treaty world in a way that you know the countries are not economically suffering and yet achieving the goals. 

Mithu: Fair enough, Annupa on a personal note, you have two sons, or about the age of the young man that I mentioned at the beginning of this episode. 

Annupa: Yeah, growing too fast. 

Mithu: They're always do. The one the young man that I talked about, who was generally frustrated and frightened about the future. What would you tell this young man or your sons for that matter, when it comes to their futures, are you optimistic? 

Annupa: I am an optimistic person by default. I think I was born with optimism, but this is the facts, and the figures draw a very grim picture and we physically see it now, you know the heat waves and technically we should be heading into autumn here in Sydney, but we had 30 something plus, degrees two days ago, we have natural calamities, bushfires, we have hunger, and we are being predicted water scarcity. 

We are being predicted. You know, cities that are going to submerge, and this is all going to lead to societal inequality, unrest and in not so far. So, the picture is grim. You know, my boys also ask me sometimes this when I show them this big mountain of landfills and images of waste and they go. Wow, is this really true, and then the question is where is the hope? I think the hope is staring at us in our faces Mithu 

I do believe that we have low lying fruit all around us. You know, there are systems that are tested and tried and TOMRA we love to talk about those systems, you know, because we are so passionate about the fact that they can really create impact significantly if not on everything, let's say even if we manage to get 30%, isn't that better than nothing? Absolutely. 

As we form long term pledges as we form, undertake more innovation, more research and draw solution maps we can also Implement these systems in parallel and you know kind of use them as building blocks to carve the longer road map. So, one of such hopes is the United Nations plastic instrument or treaty? 

You know, the awareness campaigns that I saw that kind of started kicked off when the discussion started and the youth movements. They're all hope we will get there. I think we are a very resilient species, and the biggest thing is that we are now more aware than we have ever been, I think we landed here because we because of the lack of awareness in the first place. That's why we landed here. I would like to say that 2050 will be greener than it has ever been? 

Mithu: That's optimistic, but also realistic because the technology is there, and I think we can thank the younger generation for really pushing the agenda through. That's probably as you've said, your awareness is there. But I think if they hadn't made us even more aware and made us understand the urgency. We would have been in much worse shape. But we can get there, most definitely. Annupa, always a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. 

Annupa: Like wise me to thank you so much for the opportunity, it's great. 

Mithu: If you've enjoyed this podcast, please leave us a rating, subscribe and turn on notifications to comment on this episode. Visit