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 more than 20,000 people seeking to practice a waste-free lifestyle.
However, individual efforts alone cannot fully stop the 8 million tonnes of plastic that make their way into the ocean each year and with four of the five worst ocean polluters in Southeast Asia, the region’s governments must take action, he said.
“Policymaking to address the issue must be treated with urgency as well,” Thanaboon said.
A summit of the leaders of the 10 members of ASEAN being hosted by Thailand this weekend is expected to adopt the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in ASEAN Region.
Thailand, the current chair of the group, has lauded the declaration as a “big step” for the region, whose coasts have seen whales and sea turtles wash up dead with large amounts of plastic in their stomachs.
ASEAN members Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand are among the five nations throwing the most plastic waste into oceans, according to a 2015 report coauthored 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,” Thai Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment official Wijarn Simachaya said.
Unlike the EU’s central bans and targets, Wijarn said that the ASEAN declaration would outline broad ideas, but it would be up to each nation what it would take home to implement.
The declaration is to come ahead of next week’s G20 summit in Japan, which assembles 20 major economies and is also aiming to tackle marine plastic pollution.
Environmentalists welcomed ASEAN’s move to adopt the joint declaration, but there were worries that implementation would be a challenge, because the group has a code of non-interference that would leave necessary policymaking in the hands of individual member nations.
“This declaration will be a new milestone, but it will be just words on paper if there is no change in policies,” Greenpeace Thailand director Tara Buakamsri said.
He said that ASEAN nations should urgently ban single-use plastic for the declaration to be effective.
“There is no other way,” Tara said.
Of 300 million tonnes of plastic waste produced annually, 8 million tonnes end up in the oceans, it says.
According to Ocean Conservancy, 60 percent of the debris comes from China and the four ASEAN nations.
Each year, Thailand generates about 2 million tonnes of plastic waste, only about 25 percent of which gets recycled. The rest goes to incineration or landfill, where about 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes leaks into the ocean.
Environmentalists commend initiatives by some major retailers to cut back on plastic bags, but say most businesses do not take action unless there is a stricter push from policy initiatives.
Governments should “act more drastically” by introducing immediate bans on single-use plastic so that more businesses follow suit, said Nattapong Nithi-Uthai, who leads Thai volunteer network Trash Hero.
“There should be designated places for every single item to go. If things are piled up somewhere, they can leak into the ocean,” he said. “Producers should also be made responsible for taking back the single-use plastic they produce ... This might make them think twice about producing single-use packaging.”
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