Countries in Southeast Asia must implement tougher plastic waste policies to tackle the pollution problem.

A new assessment by UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has found limited packaging-related policies and weak enforcement are aggravating the issue of plastic pollution in countries across the region.

The report looked at policies on packaging waste and standards in 10 countries in Southeast Asia – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

It reveals more than half of the land-based plastic pollution in the world’s oceans originates from just five countries, four of which are in Southeast Asia. They are Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – along with China, the top single polluter.

In addition to having an environmental impact, plastic pollution in the Asia-Pacific region alone costs its tourism, fishing and shipping industries around $1.3 billion (£1bn) a year.

Many countries in the region struggle with poor waste sorting and disposal systems and their growth in population and increasing demand for consumer products mean more single-use plastic ends up in landfill and damages the environment

UNEP suggests countries must introduce region-wide policies to regulate plastic packaging to help tackle the problem..

The review compared Southeast Asian policies to those elsewhere, such as the EU and Japan and found that in the latter places, the packaging of waste is managed more sustainably due to the implementation of national targets, an overarching life cycle approach to packaging and adopting policy that emphasises solutions that address the root cause of the problem.

It recommends harmonised, pan-ASEAN policies would be crucial to countries in tackling plastic pollution and suggests they would benefit from shared technology hubs in the ASEAN region for recycling and monitoring of the trade in plastic waste.

Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, UNEP’s Regional Co-ordinator for Chemicals and Waste said: “Southeast Asia is a primary source and victim of plastic, where it is choking seas and threatening ecosystems and livelihoods. If we want to solve the marine litter problem globally, we have to solve it in this region.”

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