1 March 2023: On this day, the ASEAN-Japan Centre (AJC) held the 2nd Symposium on Marine Plastic Waste Education that featured selected schools and their student-led initiatives from Japan and eight ASEAN countries which had previously participated in the Eco-school program of the AJC.
Conducted in a hybrid format, the Symposium presented short videos that showcased activities led by students from elementary to high school in Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Thailand, contributing to raising environmental awareness and reducing marine plastic waste.
The Symposium also featured the lighting of candles whose holders are made of marine plastic waste collected from Tokyo Bay to symbolise spreading the light and commitment to “nurture good habits for cleaner oceans” involving the AJC fellows and partner organizations, including the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris (RKC-MPD) of ERIA. This act represented a shared pledge to encourage behavioural change and promote a conscious effort to reduce plastic waste in the region.
The Symposium is part of a multi-year programme of the AJC that promotes educational awareness on the issue of marine plastic waste among the young generation, from elementary to high school. In 2021, the programme piloted in Hiroshima in cooperation with the ASEAN Hiroshima Association, and included three ASEAN countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines. This year, the scope of participation has expanded to eight ASEAN countries and four prefectures in Japan (i.e. Hiroshima, Osaka, Saitama, and Tokyo).
Since April 2022, about 7,000 elementary and high school students have participated in the Eco-school project. Between August 2022 and March 2023, the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris succeeded in urging 2,089 students from 10 schools in four countries —Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, and Thailand to take part in the project. As for this year’s Symposium, the Regional Knowledge Centre managed to mobilize 600 students from 16 schools in Indonesia, The Philippines, and Thailand.
Apart from the Regional Knowledge Centre of ERIA, the AJC cooperated with the following organizations to implement the Eco-school project, namely UN-Habitat Philippines; the Science, Technology and Environment Partnership (STEP) Centre, Ministry of Education, Brunei Darussalam; Ministry of Environment, Cambodia; and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Lao PDR.
Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, H.E. Ekkaphab Phanthavong, said the program resonates with ASEAN’s agenda and commitment as reflected in the ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Member States (2021 – 2025).
‘Promoting youth awareness and participation is among the priorities identified in the regional action plan. Nearly one third of ASEAN population is made up of youth, making them a wider asset of our region. For this reason, we highly appreciate ASEAN-Japan Centre’s initiative and unwavering commitment to organise this symposium. The symposium truly reflects the aspirations and allegiance from the youth, which I believe we and our future generation greatly depend on,’ he said during the opening remark.
Students of Nakamura School, Medan, Indonesia, participating in the Symposium.
(Photo Courtesy of the ASEAN-Japan Centre)
Mr Yasuyuki Hata, Director-General, Environmental Management Bureau, Ministry of Environment, Japan, said that since the world is connected by a single ocean, it is essential for countries around the world, including Japan, to cooperate and work together to solve the marine litter problem.
‘We hope that when you become adults in the future, you will be the kind of people who can help create a beautiful society that co-exists with nature,’ he said, addressing the youth participants, which reached over 1,600 people from across the region.
Mr Michikazu Kojima, ERIA’s Senior Advisor for the Environment, said it was very encouraging to see so many young students who received Eco-school program to have changed the way they consume and dispose of plastics or have reinforced their conviction to live more sustainably.
‘Although the weight of responsibility for the way we produce and consume plastics falls largely on adults, the consequences of its environmental damages will be shouldered by the younger generations.’ he asserted during the opening remark.
Meanwhile, Director of the UN Habitat Philippines, Mr Christopher Royo, said that in partnership with the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) and Save Philippine Seas, the institution has developed the marine litter learning kit, which aims to engage learners and facilitators in raising awareness on marine plastic litter and empowering them to take actions as individuals in their home, school, and communities. The results have been encouraging, he said, with some parties are keen to incorporate it in the school curriculum.
Youth concern over marine plastic waste problem
The videos aired during the Symposium showed a range of activities initiated by the students after receiving Eco-school lectures. The theme ranged from awareness raising activities, to clean-up projects, to plastic waste segregation and recycling, to making robots by reusing materials, to creating lesson plans.
The ASEAN-Japan Centre also announced the results of the student survey on knowledge, attitudes, and practices on plastic use and recycling among 6,977 students who participated in the Eco-school lectures.
Conducted in English, Japanese, Burmese, Khmer, and Lao, the survey reached the response rate of 66.3 percent, which will be used to determine the baseline knowledge, attitudes, and practices on plastic use and recycling.
Among the elementary students (1,986 people), the majority are concerned about the plastic problem and agreed that it is a bad idea to produce plastic waste. However, when asked about methods to reduce plastic waste, only about 50 percent turned out to know anything about it.
High school students (2,643 students) also expressed high levels of concern on the plastic problem. However, when it comes to properly practicing waste segregation at school, at home, or elsewhere, the survey results fell short. When it comes to the intention to reduce plastic waste, almost everyone responded very positively.
‘This finding gives us an important insight to the interest and the commitment of the students to change their behaviours and instil proper habit to reduce plastic wastes,’ said Dr Katrina Navallo, the Programme Manager of AJC’s Research and Policy Analysis (RPA) Cluster who oversees the Eco-school Program.
‘These data do not give us the complete picture. In order for us to fully see what is going on at the community level, we have asked some of the participating schools in ASEAN countries and Japan to share with us the activities they have been doing as their contribution to the environmental solution,’ she added.
In his closing remark, the AJC Secretary General, Mr Hirabayashi Kunihiko, reminded the participants that we cannot have a healthy planet without healthy oceans.
‘The oceans must become a model of how children, people of all generations, all countries, and all institutions can work together to achieve concrete results. Today’s candle light ceremony has shown the world that children and young people, not weapon, can protect family, community, nation and the ocean through compassion,’ he said.