Mekong countries urged to fight plastic pollution in rivers

By Minh Nga   December 22, 2022 | 02:06 am PT
Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia have been asked to adopt stronger solutions to deal with plastic pollution in the Mekong River and its tributaries.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) said in a Wednesday report that the four member countries should establish a "joint, permanent mechanism to monitor and clean up pollutants that seep into the soil, air and fisheries and can affect both the ecosystem and human health."

In its first ever report on "riverine plastic pollution" in the Lower Mekong River Basin (LMB), the MRC recommends that Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam pass and enforce new rules and regulations on waste littering, as well as the so-called "3Rs" model of reduce, reuse, recycle. The four were also urged to improve riverine plastics waste management.

The report said that these policies "should specify who should do what, and identify the clear responsibility of national government, local government, private sector and community."

Fishing boats on the Tien River, a Mekong tributary in southern Vietnam, December 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai

Fishing boats on the Tien River, a Mekong tributary in southern Vietnam, December 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai

The MRC said its own Riverine Plastic Monitoring (RPM) Program estimated that in 2020, these four countries had produced about eight million tons of plastic waste. At ports and piers, for example, some 70% to 90% of the solid waste was identified as plastic bottles, plastic bags and styrofoam.

"As our region is undergoing rapid economic development and urbanization, plastic has found a wide variety of applications, due to its relatively low cost, light weight, durability, ubiquity, and malleability," said Anoulak Kittikhoun, CEO of the MRC Secretariat.

"Yet, we must close our gaps in knowledge about the flux, transport behavior and pathway of plastic pollution to minimize impact on the Mekong, but also to contribute to saving the ocean," he said.

In 2018, Scientific American, a popular science magazine, cited research by the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany which documented how large rivers were the main source of many hundreds of metric tons of plastics that had begun to suffocate parts of different oceans.

The researchers identified the rivers most responsible around the world and the Mekong ranked 10th.

The report says that moving forward, the complexity of riverine plastic debris will require "comprehensive approaches, including multi-sectoral cooperation and oceanographical knowledge."

"Ongoing monitoring and data collection should lead to wiser, more effective policies that manage and reduce plastic waste pollution, through targeted enforcement and routine clean-up activities," it said.

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