by Hendro Putra Johannes and Ellen Putri Edita • 23 June 2022

23 June 2022: The Mission of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to ASEAN in collaboration with the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) hosted an online forum on marine plastic debris issues in the ASEAN region to jointly explore the way forward for the international legally binding agreement.

The forum started with the opening remarks from H.E. Ambassador Kwon Hee-seog, Republic of Korea’s Mission to ASEAN, H.E. Ambassador Nguyen Hai Bang, Permanent Representation of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to ASEAN, and H.E. Ekkaphab Phanthavong, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

‘Marine plastic debris is one of the most eminent threats to the humanity. The COVID-19 pandemic also pushed people to consume even more single use plastics (SUP). At this occasion, we invited many prominent experts from different countries. I hope we can have productive discussions conducive to relevant policy recommendations,’ said H.E. Ambassador Kwon Hee-seog to express his hope for the Forum.

Session 1 of the forum stocktook the regional efforts to tackle marine plastic debris. Dr Suchana Chavanich, Associate Professor at Chulalongkorn University, presented the rationale behind the urgent need to address the issue. Impacts of plastic waste on marine ecosystem have been proven through cases of physical entanglements, damages on digestive tract and nervous system, mobility effect and many more.

Also read: Dr Suchana Chavanich’s presentation

To tackle these impacts, Dr Vong Sok, Head of Environment Division at ASEAN Secretariat, explained some regional agreements set in place to strengthen cooperation among ASEAN countries, including ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris, ASEAN Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Member States (2021–2025), and ASEAN Leader’s Declaration on Blue Economy.

Also read: Dr Vong Sok’s presentation

Mr Joo-Young Park, International Affairs Specialist at Korea Marine Environment Management Corporation, further shared some joint capacity building projects on monitoring marine debris (e.g., on-site training, establishment of monitoring guidelines, pilot-scale monitoring), between the Republic of Korea and the ASEAN countries, including Indonesia (Labuan Bajo) and the Philippines (Manila Bay).

Also read: Mr Joo-Young Park’s presentation

Session 2 talked about ways to strengthen regional and international cooperation on marine plastic debris. Dr Mushtaq Ahmed Memon, the Regional Coordinator for Resource Efficiency at United Nations Environment Programme, delivered a presentation about how ASEAN can work together for the new United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) Resolution.

‘In the SEA Circular Project, we look at how the private sector can be involved in this journey. At the end of the day, we have to take into account that private sector is concerned about making profits. If we can create opportunities for profit making by reducing plastic pollution, then we can have them on board,’ said Dr Memon.

Also read: Dr Mushtaq Ahmed Memon’s presentation

Dr Yulu Liu and Ms Cheng Ling Lim, Researchers at Centre for International Law of National University of Singapore, talked about the policies on SUP restrictions. In their inventory research, they found that the existing regulations do not focus on all types of SUP, and mechanisms for compliance, monitoring, and enforcement are generally weak. Moreover, consumers become the only focus while other players’ roles should be equally highlighted. Lack of information on return schemes and other economic incentives, as well as lack of research on new interventions and their proper evaluation are some additional factors that hamper effective policymaking.

Also read: Dr Yulu Liu and Ms Cheng Ling Lim’s presentation

Mr Edwin Seah, Advisor at TRIA Pte Ltd Singapore, delivered his insights on the implementation of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in ASEAN. Mr Seah said that although the system has been around in this region for years, its implementation is still very slow.

‘EPR in the EU and US might not be applicable within the context of ASEAN based on three big reasons: high rate of compliance, monitoring, and enforcement. In line with this, the ASEAN governments should not be absolved of their responsibility to provide basic waste management services, similar to defence, education, and healthcare system being considered their fundamental duties towards their citizens,’ Mr Seah emphasized.

Also read: Mr Edwin Seah’s presentation

The last presentation was delivered by Professor Yong-Chul Jang from Chungnam National University. In his presentation, Professor Jang demonstrated the directions for sustainable plastic waste management and international cooperation between the Republic of Korea and ASEAN. He said that in the Republic of Korea, EPR system to inject back waste into the economy as sustainable materials has successfully been implemented since 2003. The technical knowledge, adopted policies, and implementation schemes of this successful action can then be shared as knowledge transfer and capacity building in ASEAN member states that have high plastic pollution.

Also read: Professor Yong-Chul Jang’s presentation

In the discussion session, the panellists formulated personal policy recommendations, as follows:

  1. Policy shall consider different scopes of people who are likely to have different behaviour (Dr Chavanich)
  2. To build a robust monitoring system, solid data and information accumulated over a long time is fundamental (Mr Park)
  3. EPR implementation might vary from one country to another (Dr Memon)
  4. Developing countries shall focus on infrastructure development, formalization of informal waste sector, as well as adopting effective regulations, fiscal measures, and mandates that cut across each other (Mr Seah)
  5. Ban on SUP production, recycling target, and international cooperation schemes are three components to be included in the new treaty (Mr Jang).
  6. In developing countries, more time and capacity building efforts are required to move toward a better plastic pollution prevention (Dr Liu & Ms Lim).

Mr Michikazu Kojima, Senior Advisor of ERIA, closed the forum by expressing his gratitude toward the co-organizer and the esteemed panel members, and by reiterating the significance of collaborative actions under the new international treaty, in the fight against plastic pollution.

Read the full report.