Marine debris is a key environmental issue at the global level and a major threat to marine and coastal biodiversity. Marine debris is defined as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment. Marine debris is recognized as a globally significant stressor on the marine and coastal environment, with impacts on marine biodiversity having been reported over the last four decades.

The Member States of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been affected by this problem as the volume of solid waste and marine debris generated across Southeast Asia has rapidly increased in recent years. According to one estimate, just six ASEAN Member States (Indonesia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore) generated a total of 243 million tons of waste in 2016. Plastic is estimated to account for 80% of all marine debris in the oceans. In six of the ten ASEAN Member States alone, over 31 million tons of plastic waste was generated in a year. ASEAN has taken cognizance of this problem and has launched the ASEAN Regional Action Plan (RAP) for Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Member States (2021 – 2025), which provides a scalable, solution-focused joint strategy to address marine plastic debris across the region. This RAP will build on existing concrete action in the ASEAN Region, with the adoption of the “Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in ASEAN Region” adopted in 2019 which aims to promote cooperation for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of coastal and marine environment, respond and deal with the risk of pollution and threats to marine ecosystem and coastal environment, in particular in respect of ecologically sensitive areas and the associated “ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris”.

The Regional Action Plan will be implemented over the next five years, highlighting many opportunities for the Member States to catalyse, collaborate and apply long-term solutions relating to plastics usage and plastic management. The Plan includes 14 regional actions across four pillars of policy support and planning; research, innovation and capacity building; public awareness, education and outreach; and private sector engagement. The 14 regional action are: 1) Developing regional guidebook on financial mechanisms for investments in plastic waste management; 2) Developing guiding principles for phasing out select Single-use Plastics (SUPs); 3) Developing a regional guidebook on standards for responsible plastic waste trade, sorted plastics waste, and recycled plastics; 4) Elaboration of best practice manual for development of minimum standards and technical requirements for plastic packaging and labelling; 5) Undertaking regional stocktaking of Green Public Procurement; 6) Developing best practice manual for reducing, collection and treatment of sea-based litter; 7) Developing guidebook for common methodologies for assessment and monitoring of marine litter; 8) Strengthening existing ASEAN regional knowledge networks on marine plastic; 9) Conducting a regional study on microplastics, including investigating the linkages to human health; 10) Coordinating training programs on plastics and plastic waste management as an opportunity for developing capacity building programs at a regional level to leverage economies of scale and streamline design costs; 11) Developing communication strategies for different settings and countries for plastic and plastic waste to create effective campaign designs for the different target groups reflecting different consumption behaviour; 12) Enhancing the understanding and awareness of consumers regarding in particular recyclable, compostable, biodegradable and oxo-degradable plastics; 13) Establishing a regional platform for Extended Producer Responsibility EPR, knowledge sharing and implementation support among the ASEAN countries and 14) Establishing a regional platform to support innovation and investments in plastic and plastic waste management.

Dato Lim Jock Hoi, the Secretary-General of ASEAN remarks that the RAP is “envisioned to leverage the region’s collective experience by sharing best practices and lessons learned, as well as utilize the economies of scale to be found in areas such as standards, innovation, financing and training. Ultimately, this approach aims to support and encourage ASEAN Member States to strengthen policies and practices at the national level, while enhancing collaboration and coordination at the regional and international levels in order to achieve sustainable management of coastal and marine environments”.

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