ASEAN member countries have decided to sign a joint declaration proclaiming their vow to combat marine waste in the region, at a summit in Bangkok. This declaration is the first of its kind and is expected to “strengthen actions at the national level as well as through collaborative actions...to prevent and significantly reduce marine debris”.
Although some private businesses in the region have started taking steps towards sustainability, and adopted recyclable material instead of materials like single-use plastic, government policies have not shown the same attentiveness towards non-renewable waste that ends up in the ocean. The declaration aims to “strengthen national laws and regulations as well as enhance regional and international cooperation including on relevant policy dialogue and information sharing”.
ASEAN members Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand are amongst the five worst polluters of oceans globally, along with top offender, China. These five countries dump more than half of the eight million tonnes of plastic waste that end up in oceans every year. Not only does the region generate billions of tonnes every year, its nations are among the top importers of trash from more developed countries, like the US and Canada.
As a result, the Southeast Asian region has been criticized for not taking adequate action in light of disturbing images of animals choking on plastic waste, polluted beaches, canals, etc. that have found their way all over global platforms. The Bangkok declaration is a much needed solace in such a scenario.
While the declaration is a commendable first step, certain doubts persist. There is no mention of much needed bans on single use plastic or foreign waste imports. Implementation also looks like a challenge given the fact that ASEAN has a code of non-interference and it will eventually come down to individual member countries to formulate and execute policies. Will the Bangkok declaration prove to be fruitful, or is it just a tactic to appease concerned groups and keep up appearances?