Vientiane, 23 August 2023: Experts and representatives of the ASEAN+3 Member States gathered in Vientiane, Laos to discuss the progress and challenges of national and regional efforts in addressing marine plastic pollution. Among the key points discussed, the speakers and panelists underscored the critical role of knowledge sharing to support and harmonise data-driven policymaking in the region.

This dialogue occurred during a hybrid seminar entitled ‘Regional Knowledge Sharing and Identification of Opportunities for Enhanced Reduction of Marine Plastics Debris’, held in commemoration of ASEAN-Japan 50 years of collaboration. The seminar aimed to gather insights for enhanced marine plastic reduction as well as to showcase progress made by ASEAN countries in light of the upcoming internationally legally binding plastic treaty.

In his opening remarks, the Director of Marine Plastic Pollution Office, Ministry of Environment of Japan (MOEJ), Mr Kotaro Fuji emphasised the importance of strengthening collaboration between Japan and the ASEAN Member States on marine plastic pollution. ‘We would like to help create an effective instrument involving many countries including those in the Asia Pacific region,’ he said.

Dr Yasuhiko Hotta, Programme Director of the Sustainable Consumption and Production Area at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) set the stage for the discussion with a presentation highlighting the significance of knowledge sharing in harmonising relevant policies within ASEAN.

In his presentation, Dr Hotta referred to the G20 report: Efforts on Actions Against Marine Plastic Litter, quoting that two-thirds of bilateral and multilateral initiatives by G20 countries are concentrated in Southeast Asia. Therefore, he stressed the importance of good policy coordination, harmonisation, and knowledge-sharing mechanisms to ensure the effective implementation of these initiatives.

‘We believe the National Action Plans for Marine Plastic Pollution could be an important instrument to coordinate and harmonise efforts both at the national and international level; it shows the priorities and needs of each country, so international donors can provide more effective support,’ he argued.

Furthermore, Dr Hotta highlighted the importance of avoiding the duplication of ongoing efforts and supporting the existing network of platforms to share data and knowledge essential for data-driven policymaking.

Adding to the first presentation, Mr Somvang Bouttavong, Director of the Water Utilization Management Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) of Lao PDR shared the progress and challenges facing his country in combating plastic pollution.

Mr Bouttavong presented the latest data on plastic waste generation collected from six cities in Lao PDR, showing that only 6.5% of more than 60 thousand tons of generated plastic waste are recycled, while 10% entering waterways. The rest, unfortunately, ends up in the landfill or leaking into the environment.

To address this emerging issue, Mr Bouttavong explained that the government of Lao PDR has identified several key challenges including unclear strategy, overlapping roles and responsibilities, limited funding which led to limited waste management capacity, as well as lack of awareness on the importance of waste segregation at the source, among other issues.

In response to the above identified situation and challenges, Lao PDR has taken some concrete actions to reduce plastic pollution, most notably the development of the National Plastics Action Plan (NPAP) and implementation public awareness campaign on Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (3R).

Also read: A United ASEAN Against Plastic Pollution
Mr Somvang Bouttavong of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) of Lao PDR shared the recent data on plastic waste issues in the country

Mr Somvang Bouttavong of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) of Lao PDR shared the recent data on plastic waste issues in the country

Implementing the National Action Plans

Dr. Vu Dinh Hieu, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Institute of Seas and Islands (VISI), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) of Viet Nam opened the panel discussion by sharing the background story of Viet Nam’s role in pioneering the development of National Action Plan among ASEAN Member States, and emphasised the importance of setting targets.

‘Viet Nam is committed to leading the way in Southeast Asia by crafting and implementing meaningful policies to address marine plastic waste pollution,’ he said before highlighting the revised Viet Nam’s Law on Environmental Protection that now includes responsibilities for producers’ and importers’ regarding recycling.

The next panellist, Deputy Director of the Environmental Policy Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) of Lao PDR, Ms Palina Khotphouthone, further elaborated on the progress of National Plastics Action Plan (NPAP) for Lao PDR (2023-2030) and the preparations for its implementation in the country.

During the discussion, she described the coordination led by MoNRE involving five other relevant ministries and the private sector to gather inputs for the action plan draft for effective implementation.

‘Overall, the private sector has shown a positive response and has pledged to participate in the implementation of relevant activities. Another important update is that we are currently preparing project proposals to international partners to secure funding. It is now under consideration,’ she said.

On a related note, Ms Heidi Savelli-Soderberg, Programme Officer at the Marine and Freshwater Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shared information related to monitoring and reporting mechanisms of the implementation of National Action Plans.

According to Ms Savelli-Soderberg, UNEP has been mandated to support the development and implementation of national action plans on the topic, to facilitate ad-hoc and regular coordination of actions amongst different actors, and to look at the harmonisation of approaches to best measure and monitor progress.

‘We are looking at how digital platforms can help and assist in knowledge management not only for tracking progress-related data but also for documenting different steps where progress has not been made,’ she explained.

Mr. Peter Börkey, Principal Administrator at the Environment Directorate, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), further enhanced the discussion by sharing current work undertaken by his organisation in support of the regional efforts to address plastic pollution. He emphasised that the OECD’s focus is on data and analysis to support policymaking.

‘One focus area in which ASEAN can make significant strides is in overcoming data limitations. We are happy to share with you that we are teaming up with ERIA and IGES to downscale the Global Plastics Outlook to the ASEAN+3 region to help improve the data situation, and at the same time, to come up with deeper insights on what drives plastic use and waste generation, and what policy measures as well as policy packages can help to address the very fast growth of use, waste generation, and the leakage,’ he added, ‘We aim to complete it by the end of 2024.’

Senior Advisor to the President on Environmental Issues of ERIA, Mr. Michikazu Kojima, joined the discussion by sharing the most recent updates on relevant policies in each ASEAN Member State.

He noted, ‘The Philippines has updated the regulation this year that includes a target increase for the recycling rate from 20% this year to 80% in a few years. Singapore is set to introduce a deposit and refund system in 2025. Indonesia mandates producers and shops to develop plans to reduce plastic packaging and containers. Viet Nam is also preparing to apply EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) on various items based on the revised Law on Environmental Protection.’.

At the conclusion of the session, Dr. Premakumara Jagaath Dickella Gamaralalage, Principle Researcher/ Director of IGES Centre Collaborating with UNEP on Environmental Technologies (CCET) at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), who served as the moderator of the session, summarised the key take-a-way messages as follows:

  • Emphasis on Knowledge Sharing: The meeting highlighted the critical role of knowledge sharing in supporting and harmonising data-driven policymaking in the ASEAN+3 region. It was recognized that sharing information and best practices is essential to effectively address marine plastic pollution.
  • National Action Plans as a Coordinating Tool: National Action Plans for Marine Plastic Pollution were highlighted as important instruments for coordinating and harmonising efforts at both the national and international levels. These plans help identify the priorities and needs of each country, allowing international donors to provide more effective support.
  • Challenges in Plastic Waste Management: The meeting shed light on the challenges facing countries in managing plastic waste, including issues such as unclear strategies, overlapping responsibilities, limited funding, and the need for increased waste management capacity. These challenges underscore the importance of coordinated efforts to combat plastic pollution.
  • Collaboration and Funding: Several countries are actively collaborating with international partners and organisations to secure funding for plastic pollution reduction initiatives. The private sector has also shown a positive response and commitment to participating in relevant activities.
  • Data and Analysis for Informed Policy: Overcoming data limitations and enhancing data availability were recognised as crucial steps in addressing plastic pollution. Collaborations with organisations like the OECD, ERIA and IGES and efforts to downscale the Global Plastics Outlook to the ASEAN+3 region aim to provide deeper insights into the drivers of plastic usage, waste generation, and leakage, ultimately informing effective policy measures and packages.
Also read: ASEAN-Japan Cooperation Symposium: the Launching of the ASEAN-Japan Action Agenda on Plastic Pollution