Southeast Asia Still Prevalent in Using Single-Use Plastic: Survey Reveals Ongoing Environmental Challenge

When was the last time you bought plastic bottled water? It’s a simple question that often highlights our delicate dilemma between convenience and the environment. As someone deeply invested in sustainability and environmentalism, it’s disheartening to acknowledge that Southeast Asia grapples with the persistent issue of single-use plastic, as revealed by a recent survey. Such is this survey done by Milieu.

It revealed that the persistent prevalence of single-use plastic bottled water is evident, with 21% in the region purchasing single-use plastic bottles as their primary source of water consumption. This reveals both the scale of the issue and the potential for improvement.

Across Southeast Asia, the prevalence of single-use plastic bottled water persists, with many consumers disregarding the increasing awareness of environmental issues and exacerbating the region’s ongoing plastic pollution crisis. Milieu Insight.

Southeast Asia’s leading consumer research firm, conducted a survey among 3,500 respondents across the region to understand the prevalence of single-use plastic bottles and delve into the reasons behind their use and the recycling habits of Southeast Asian consumers in response to a recent UN report.

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Image: yurasits

The study found that Singapore (6%), the Philippines (7%), and Indonesia (9%) had the lowest rates of purchasing plastic bottled water as their main source of water consumption in the region, highlighting the varying levels of reliance on plastic bottled water among the Southeast Asian countries. Respondents across the region cited key reasons for why they continue to consume single-use plastic bottled water: Bottled water is readily available (69%), is hygienic/clean (48%), and affordable (44%). Despite having clean tap water, 31% in Singapore cited hygiene reasons for consuming single-use plastic bottled water.


Image: Milieu

Notably, Indonesia (56%) and the Philippines (50%) were more reliant on plastic gallon bottled water used in water dispensers, while Thailand was the highest across the region (63%) for single-use bottled water consumption.

The study also found that on a regional level, the top three factors for not recycling were the lack of easily accessible recycling bins/chutes/areas (44%), insufficient storage space for recyclables (43%), and a habit of disposing rather than recycling (35%). In Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, the inaccessibility of recycling bins/chutes was the primary reason for not recycling single-use plastic bottles. 

The inconvenient truth

When asked what would motivate them to recycle, 52% of the Southeast Asian respondents stated that they would be inclined to do so if recycling areas were more accessible. Additionally, 44% expressed their desire for a designated space to store their recyclables. At the same time, an equal percentage felt that a monetary or non-monetary reward would serve as an effective incentive to encourage them to recycle more often. In Vietnam, however, the top motivator is when everyone around them is also recycling, with 64% indicating so. 

The study also highlights that the majority in the region (85%) acknowledge that the consumption of single-use plastic bottled water has a substantial environmental impact and that everyone has a role to play in reducing single-use plastic bottles. Respondents indicated that carrying one’s own water bottle to reduce purchases of bottled water (79%) was the most popular when asked what they would be willing to do to minimize single-use plastic bottles. Additionally, 43% are keen to purchase bottled water in larger volumes instead of multiple small bottles, and 35% express willingness to opt for water in sustainable packaging such as in Tetra Pak cartons or other paper packaging. These findings reflect a growing consciousness and highlight the willingness of Southeast Asians to embrace sustainable practices. 

The survey revealed that across all age groups, 2 in 10 respondents admitted to rarely or never recycling their plastic bottles. Thailand saw the largest group of proactive individuals, with 3 in 10 indicating they would always recycle their plastic bottles. Regionally, the inclination to always recycle rather than dispose of plastic bottles is notably higher among those 45 years and older (33% would always recycle), while 44% of younger respondents within the 16-24 age band rarely or only sometimes recycled.  

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Image: Milieu

Nudging consumers toward sustainable practices

In Singapore, to make recycling convenient for households and raise residents’ awareness of the benefits of recycling, the National Environment Agency launched a Recycle Right campaign earlier this year. Every residential household in Singapore was encouraged to collect a free home recycling box, known as a Bloobox, to help kickstart their own home recycling efforts. 

In the Philippines, SM Malls offer a trash-to-cash incentive program every first Friday and Saturday of the month at 74 SM Supermalls to encourage waste segregation and recycling among its customers, tenants, and the community. Regional offices have also implemented similar programs to motivate more consumers to collect their recyclables and exchange and convert their recyclable wastes and single-use plastics into Environmental Points (EPs) that can be used to buy groceries, goods, and even pay for utilities like electricity, water, and internet service. 

Across the region, Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) have also been popping up to drive behavioral change by incentivization, supported by both the public and private sectors. Klean, a Malaysia startup, provides smart RVMs (Reverse Vending Machines) where citizens can drop off their PET plastic waste to collect points they can redeem for deals from their merchant partners, including TouchnGo, Boost, and Grab. In Indonesia, state-run PT ASDP Indonesia Ferry has also deployed reverse vending machines (RVMs) and drop boxes at several ports and its branch offices to collect used plastic bottles. 

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Image: Milieu

It is a cause of concern to observe that many consumers remain relatively complacent and continue to cite inconvenience as a reason for not recycling, especially when a significant majority of nearly 8 in 10 respondents (77%) agree that single-use plastic bottles present a pressing environmental problem.

Globally, Asia-Pacific’s plastic recycling market is expected to witness the fastest CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 9.2 from 2022 to 2031, according to a report by Allied Market Research. Driven by more advanced technologies where recycled plastic now has a wide range of applications and uses in various industries, including packaging, construction, automotive, and textiles, recycling plastic waste, why are consumers slow to realize that they can simultaneously reduce their carbon footprint and create wealth by switching to more sustainable choices?

Greener Future

This survey highlights the persistent prevalence of single-use plastic in Southeast Asia, posing significant challenges to the region’s sustainability goals. By gaining a deeper understanding of this issue’s root causes and implications, we can work towards meaningful change and adopt sustainable alternatives. Southeast Asia can pave the way for a greener and more sustainable future through collective action and a shared commitment to environmental responsibility.

To know more about this report and how to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles, visit their website,