Asean leaders’ summit

PM Lee: Still a long way to go in solving plastic problem

A man collecting plastic items washed up by the sea at the Ao Phrao Beach, on the island of Ko Samet, Thailand, on June 9, 2018.
A man collecting plastic items washed up by the sea at the Ao Phrao Beach, on the island of Ko Samet, Thailand, on June 9, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Asean has "become seized" with the issue of plastic waste pollution in the oceans, and it is good that the regional bloc has taken a stand on this, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He was referring to a first-of-its-kind agreement aimed at tackling marine debris that the 10 member nations adopted on Saturday. Among other things, Asean nations have committed to adopting a more holistic land-to-sea approach, strengthening research capabilities, enhancing cooperation and increasing public awareness.

But PM Lee yesterday noted that it is still a long way to solving the problem because four of the biggest sources of plastic waste in oceans are in South-east Asia. A 2017 Ocean Conservancy report found that five Asian countries - China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand - dump more than half of the eight million tonnes of plastic waste that end up in the oceans every year.

In his interview with Singapore media, PM Lee said transboundary haze continues to be on the agenda.

But leaders are also increasingly concerned with waste exports, he said, citing recent reports in which the Philippines found that containers meant to be filled with recyclables turned out to be full of waste garbage instead.

Manila managed to send the trash back to Ottawa, Canada, but PM Lee noted that the issue of waste exports is a problem for many countries, "both practically handling this stuff, and certainly politically".

"To be seen as a place where rich countries dump their garbage, I think it is not politically wearable. So, we are talking about it, trying to concert some kind of a common approach to it," he said.

 

In Singapore, waste is not exported but incinerated, and the little that cannot be burned is put in the landfill island, Pulau Semakau. PM Lee said: "But even Pulau Semakau is finite. The more we can recycle, the better, so that is the message which the young people have understood, and it is good that they are focused on it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2019, with the headline 'PM: Still a long way to go in solving plastic problem'. Print Edition | Subscribe