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Asia Minute: U.N. Cites Growing Plastic Pollution in Southeast Asian Waters

H. Hach

Plastic pollution is a growing problem both in the waters of our islands and around the world. This week, the United Nations has focused in on one area that is among the worst polluters: Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asian nations need to toughen their laws when it comes to the disposal of plastics.

That’s according to a new study by the United Nations Environment Program, which says a growing amount of plastic waste is turning up in the ocean waters of Southeast Asia — especially plastic packaging.

One challenge is a lack of common standards in the region when it comes to sorting and disposing of waste in general — as well as a lack of consistent government policies.

The report says that more than half of the plastic that winds up traveling from land to the surrounding ocean comes from five countries. The four in Southeast Asia include Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

According to the study, China remains the single largest plastic polluter in the Asia Pacific.

The UN group recommends a coordinated approach to waste disposal, and has some specific suggestions.

One is to build on existing programs that are working — creating hubs for recycling. Right now, recyclable items from Myanmar and Cambodia are shipped to Thailand, where technology exists to process it into reusable material.

The UN Environment Program estimates the cost of plastic litter in the waters of the Asia Pacific to be 1.3 billion dollars a year to three industries: shipping, fishing, and tourism.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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