Mekong nations to address choking plastic pollution

By Minh Nga   February 13, 2020 | 06:00 am PT
Mekong nations to address choking plastic pollution
A man baths next to plastic waste floating in the Hau River, a tributary of the Mekong River, in Soc Trang Province, southern Vietnam, February 2019. Photo by Nguyen Viet Hung.
Vietnam and three Mekong neighbors will join hands to assess plastic waste leakage into the river system in a bid to fight plastic pollution in the region.

Fifty government officials and university researchers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam gathered to discuss assessment methodologies to study plastic debris and its sources across the Mekong at this week's regional workshop hosted by Mekong River Commission (MRC) and UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Vientiane, Laos.

The four nations will work together to report on the current state of plastic pollutants in the region and offer policy recommendations to address challenges, the MRC said in a press release.

"The assessment will provide the four Mekong countries with scientific evidence and information on plastic debris, plastic pollution and its threat to the environment and people," Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, UNEP regional coordinator for Chemicals, Waste and Air Quality, told the meeting Tuesday and Wednesday.

Assessment will involve monitoring and collecting plastic debris and waste leakage across five sites in major cities along Mekong River, including Chiang Rai and Ubon Ratchathani of Thailand, Vientiane of Laos, Phnom Penh of Cambodia and Can Tho of Vietnam, with four Mekong universities to take the lead.

According to a November 2017 study published in academic journal Environmental Science & Technology, a biweekly peer-reviewed journal published by American Chemical Society, Mekong was one of the 10 rivers that collectively carried between 88-95 percent of plastics into the world's oceans.

Other reports have also pointed to the plastic lifestyle proliferating across Mekong neighborhoods without basin-wide countermeasures, according to MRC.

The regional workshop in Vientiane was held as part of a 10-month long UNEP "Counter-MEASURE" project to conclude this March.

Funded by the Japanese government, the Counter-MEASURE, or the Project on Promotion of Countermeasures Against Marine Plastic Litter in Southeast Asia and India, was launched in mid-2019 led by the UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. It aims to study land-based plastic leakage via rivers and canals or drainages into the sea across the Mekong River basin, as well as in Mumbai and throughout the Ganges River basin in India.

This project forms part of a larger technical collaboration signed by MRC and UNEP last December.

An Pich Hatda, MRC CEO, said the partnership with UNEP comes at the right time, as member states prepare to conduct national reviews on the status and trends of plastic debris, including a legal and institutional framework for plastic pollution management as part of MRC’s annual work plan in 2020.

"Reviews aim to provide a better picture and understanding of the plastic threat in each of the four countries," he said, adding MRC would formulate a long-term plan to monitor, assess and provide policy recommendations to member countries, using results from national reviews and the Counter-MEASURE project.

"We hope to develop a strategic Mekong framework for plastic pollution management and create networks across the four countries for the monitoring and management of Mekong plastic pollution," he said.

The U.N. reported in November last year Southeast Asian countries, among the world’s worst ocean polluters, need tougher regulations for plastic packaging to curb leakage.

Southeast Asia is a major contributor to land-based plastic waste leaking into the world’s oceans, with over half coming from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - along with China, the top single polluter.

Many countries in the region struggle with poor waste sorting and disposal systems, and their growth in population and explosive demand for consumer products mean more single-use plastic ends up in landfills or leaks into the environment.

To battle the growing crisis, Southeast Asia, home to 641 million people across 10 countries, needs to introduce region-wide policies to regulate plastic packaging, UNEP stressed.

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