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ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have called on Asean member states to go beyond a narrow focus in solving the problem of marine plastic pollution to also address the plastic waste trade, as the region continues to be inundated with imported trash.
With Bangkok set to host the 34th Asean Summit over the weekend, the meeting is scheduled to hold talks on the marine debris problem. Asean member states have pledged to endorse a new regional collaborative framework – The Bangkok Declaration – to tackle marine plastic pollution.
However, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and other prominent environmental groups in the region faulted the agenda for not including the huge related problem of plastic waste trade.
They called on Asean governments to entirely ban all import of plastic waste, establish a holistic regional policy governing production of single-use plastics, and advance the framework for a sustainable and ethical circular economy in order to protect public health and the environment from plastic pollution.
Thailand, as Asean chair, will host the summit under the theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”.
Thailand country director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Tara Buakamsri, said it was a good start for Asean countries to acknowledge the severity of the marine debris problem and work together to tackle the large environmental issue. But the Asean initiative will not be successful if member states keep their eyes shut to the rapidly growing volume of plastic waste trade in the region.
“Asean cannot tackle marine plastic pollution just by announcing a regional collaborative framework in the Bangkok Declaration. We need stronger political will and action to genuinely engage in reducing plastic waste through the entire lifecycle, including by banning trade in plastic waste,” Tara said.
“If we continue to allow our region to be the garbage bin of the world, who can guarantee that these imported wastes will be properly handled and recycled. And if these wastes are poorly managed, they will definitely leak and contaminate the environment and some of them will eventually end up in the ocean.”
According to the statistics put together by Greenpeace on plastic waste trade in Southeast Asia, nearly every country in Asean – and notably Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines – had substantially increased the volume of plastic waste imported over the past three years. A deluge of diverted shipments of waste, some of it toxic, descended on the region from developed nations after China banned their import.
Between 2016 and 2018, Asean members saw plastic waste imports grow by a staggering 171 per cent, from 836,529 tonnes to 2,265,962 tonnes, equivalent to about 423,544 20-foot shipping containers. Greenpeace has called on Asean leaders to immediately ban the import of plastic waste in the region, end the use of single-use plastic, and regulate plastic use and production at the source.
“This [plastic waste trade] is an Asean problem,” said Heng Kiah Chun, a campaigner of Greenpeace Malaysia. “All countries need to make an urgent joint declaration to end plastic waste imports from abroad, and put in place systems to support a sustainable plastic-free world.”
Meanwhile, Marine and Coastal Resources Department’s director-general Jatuporn Buruspat said that the Bangkok Declaration would be a major milestone in tackling marine plastic debris in the region. It will mark the first time that Asean countries would have brought the issue to the regional summit and together pledged to mitigate the problem.
“The Bangkok Declaration … will be the wide framework for all Asean member states to follow, to engage in mitigating the marine debris problem,” Jatuporn said. “However, as the laws and regulations of each country differ, it will be the obligation of each member state to come up with their own action plan to tackle marine debris in their country.”
He said that Thailand will also suggest to the summit an action plan against marine plastic pollution involving the installation of garbage trapping booms at the deltas of major rivers in order to prevent garbage from flowing into the ocean. It will be up to each government to decide whether to adopt Thailand’s plan.