Curbing marine debris in Asia

  • AseanPlus News
  • Saturday, 22 Jun 2019

Doing his part: A man recycling plastic bottles at Xa Cau village in Vietnam. — Reuters

BANGKOK: Thai zero-waste advocate Thanaboon Somboon never leaves his home without what he calls a full “weaponry” of reusable shopping bags, coffee tumblers and stainless steel straws for his daily battle against single-use plastic.

“I saw news of trash overflowing the world ... sea animals dying from eating plastic ... I felt I must do something,” said the 48-year-old entrepreneur, who leads an online community of over 20,000 people seeking to practise a waste-free lifestyle.But individual efforts alone can’t fully stop the eight million tonnes of plastic that make their way to the ocean each year, and with four of the five worst ocean polluters in South-East Asia, the region’s governments must take action, he said.

“Policymaking to address the issue must be treated with urgency as well,” added Thanaboon.

A summit for leaders of the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) being hosted by Thailand this weekend is expected to adopt the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in the Asean Region.

Thailand, the group’s current chair, has lauded the declaration as a “big step” for the region, whose coasts have seen whales and sea turtles wash up dead in recent years with plastic rubbish in their stomachs.Asean members Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand are among the five countries throwing the most plastic waste into oceans, according to a 2015 report co-authored by environmental campaigner Ocean Conservancy.

China is the worst offender.

“Every Asean country agrees that marine debris is a common problem that we must address urgently,” Wijarn Simachaya, permanent secretary of Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environ­ment, said.

Unlike the European Union’s central bans and targets, Wijarn said the Asean declaration would outline broad ideas, but it would be up to each country what it would take home to implement.

The declaration will come ahead of next week’s G20 summit in Japan, which will gather 20 major economies and also aims to tackle marine plastic pollution.

Environmentalists welcomed Asean’s move to adopt the joint declaration, but there are worries that implementation will be a challenge as the group has a code of non-interference that would leave necessary policymaking in the hands of individual member countries.

“This declaration is a new milestone, but it will be just words on paper if there is no change in policies,” Tara Buakamsri, director of Greenpeace Thailand, said. — Reuters

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