In six of the ten ASEAN Member States alone, over 31 million tons of plastic waste was generated in a year
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) launched the ASEAN Regional Action Plan 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.
Adopted ahead of World Environment Day on June 5 and World Oceans Day on June 8, the Action Plan represents a milestone for ASEAN, signifying a renewed, bolder collective commitment through regional actions, aligned with national agendas towards tackling a critical environmental challenge.
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. While many of them are engaged in national efforts to combat plastic waste, this challenge knows no borders. Shared river systems, connected coastlines, and the international trade in plastic products and plastic waste exacerbate the threat of marine debris for the entire region. The sudden increase in single-use plastics and personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 crisis has put additional stress on countries working to tackle marine plastic debris.
“Our seas and coasts are vital for our lives and livelihoods, however, they are under immense pressure, especially due to marine plastic pollution, which has the potential to damage human health as well as decimate the tourism and fishing industries that are vital to the region’s economies,” said H.E Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN. “The ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Member States is a testament of our collective and forward-looking response to the challenge with the aim to support regional policies, platforms and align resources to complement existing country actions.”
Despite the challenges, the Regional Action Plan will be implemented over the next five years, highlighting many opportunities for Member States to catalyze, 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 volume of solid waste and marine debris generated across Southeast Asia is on the rise. Coupled with expanding urbanization and a growing consuming class, the long-term effects are only just emerging,” said H.E. Varawut Silpa-archa, Thailand’s Minister of National Resources and Environment. “Building on the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in ASEAN Region and the ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris, the Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris will play an important role in helping ASEAN achieve this vision and protect the vital marine environments that sustain the region for generations to come. To implement this Regional Action Plan, engagement and support from multi-sectoral stakeholders are crucial.”
The Regional Action Plan supports ASEAN’s overall commitment to tackling the challenge by reducing plastic inputs into the system, enhancing collection and minimizing leakage, as well as creating value for waste reuse. Actions include guidelines for countries to phase out single-use plastics, harmonize regional policies on recycling and plastics packaging standards, and strengthen regional measurement and monitoring of marine debris. These coordinated measures will also enhance regional platforms for innovation, investments, and training.
The Regional Action Plan was developed through extensive consultations with representatives from ASEAN, regional technical experts, and the private sector. Support was also offered by the World Bank Group, through PROBLUE, an umbrella multi-donor trust fund housed at the World Bank, that supports the sustainable and integrated development of marine and coastal resources in healthy oceans.
“Marine debris is a monumental challenge for East Asia and the Pacific, and needs strong collective action,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Regional Vice President for East Asia and Pacific. “The World Bank is proud to have supported the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN Member States in preparing this comprehensive Action Plan as a framework for joint action and accountability. We are committed to supporting its successful implementation.”
The World Bank has also undertaken extensive diagnostics, policy support, and investments across the region. This included a series of studies that was launched in March 2021, on the untapped economic potential of plastic circularity which identified that more than 75% of the material value of the plastics is lost – the equivalent of US$6 billion per year across the three countries – when single-use plastics are discarded rather than recovered and recycled.