International Agreement: Mekong River Commission

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is an intergovernmental organisation for regional dialogue and cooperation in the Lower Mekong River Basin, established in 1995 based on the Mekong Agreement between Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Thailand, and Viet Nam. MRC is a regional platform for water diplomacy and a knowledge hub of water resource management for the region’s sustainable development (MRC, 2020).

In October 2013, MRC published Waste Management Guidelines for ships and ports, which set out guidance to reduce illegal dumping of waste into the sea. MRC (2013) believes that reducing the discharge of ship-generated waste and cargo residue due to inefficient waste management, lack of control, inadequate recovery systems, and inefficient information flow will enhance the protection of the marine environment. The report describes current regulations, waste streams, and handling routines, providing clear instructions for port users. It reviews existing facilities for port and vessel waste management to support the development of a comprehensive waste management plan for Chiang Saen Commercial Port (MRC, 2013).

As part of phase 1 of Promotion of Countermeasures Against Marine Plastic Litter in Southeast Asia and India (CounterMEASURE project) funded by the Government of Japan, the MRC Secretariat and the United Nations Environment Program Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific hosted the Regional Technical Workshop on Assessment and Monitoring of Plastic Pollution in the Mekong River on 11–12 February 2020. It discussed assessment methodologies to study plastic debris and its sources along the Mekong River. The assessment, for which four Mekong universities will take the lead, involves monitoring and collecting plastic debris and waste leakage in five sites in major Mekong cities, including Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Chiang Rai, Ubon Ratchathani, and Can Tho (MRC, 2020). The assessment will provide Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam with scientific evidence on plastic debris as well as plastic pollution and its threat to the environment and people (Greater Mekong Subregion, 2020).

Phase 2 of the CounterMEASURE project has kicked off field surveys along the Mekong, mapping plastic leakage and hotspots (UNEP, 2021). The MRC Secretariat has identified 12 ports and piers along the Mekong, where plastic leakage and accumulation will be assessed (UNEP, 2021). The ports and piers are not the only microplastic survey locations; a number of other areas are being surveyed in six project sites. The project will utilise Albatross, a microplastic sampling device developed by Pirika, Inc. and a citizen science mobile application tool developed by the Geoinformatic Center of Asian Institute of Technology (UNEP, 2021).

Phase 2 will also support the implementation of Resolution 12.20 on Management of Marine Debris and Decisions 13.122 to 13.125 – Impacts of Plastic Pollution on Aquatic, Terrestrial and Avian Species of the Convention on Migratory Species (the Bonn Convention) by looking for novelties on the impact of plastics on migratory species in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems (Convention on Migratory Species, 2021).


Convention on Migratory Species (2021), Promotion of Action Against Marine Plastic Litter in Asia and the Pacific (CounterMEASURE II) (accessed 26 April 2021).

Greater Mekong Subregion (2020), Countries Undertake Assessment of Plastic Pollution in the Mekong River (accessed 25 April 2021).

Mekong River Commission (MRC) (2013), Waste Management Guidelines: Prepared for Chiang Saen Commercial Port Area (accessed 2 May 2021).

Mekong River Commission (MRC) (2020), Actions to address Mekong plastic pollution take shape (accessed 25 April 2021).

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2021), Field surveys begin in Mekong River for CounterMEASURE Phase 2 (accessed 25 April 2021).