By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
Plastic pollution constitutes one of the severest threats to the marine ecosystem and to humanity, it was agreed at an Asia-Europe Meeting on “Sustainable Marine Environment: Marine Debris” held in Bangkok last Friday.
Widespread public awareness is essential if efforts to reduce single-use plastic are to succeed, the experts agreed.
Petch Manopawitr of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Southeast Asia Group said the key to success in plastic reduction lies with the active participation of consumers and the business sector.
“We have learned from experience that passive campaigns often end in failure because the majority of people and businesses pay little attention – they don’t feel the economic motivation to participate,” Petch said.
“However, by adding economic tactics, such as a collection fee for plastic bags or price discounts for shunning single-used plastics, both business operators and consumers become much more alert and willing to participate.”
Petch cited an example in Britain, where one campaign reduced the number of plastic bags being used by 80 per cent by collecting a fee for every bag still being flouted.
“That success could be replicated in Thailand,” he said. “We found that, under the Chula Zero Waste Campaign, every shop at Chulalongkorn University has a similar policy of adding a charge for using plastic bags. It’s also been very effective, since plastic bag use at the university has dropped by 85 per cent.
“This is the power of economic incentives, which make people feel they can save the environment and derive financial benefit at the same time. These campaigns are also good for business operators, who can profit from them and earn a reputation as being environmentally friendly.”
Maria Chiara Femiano of the European Union’s Foreign Policy Instruments Asia/Pacific urged business operators to reduce plastic waste throughout their production chain to ensure sustainability in the effort to tackle the problem.
The goal wasn’t to eliminate all plastic, she emphasised, but to encourage wiser use of plastic and seek better methods in reuse and recycling.
Noting that plastic pollution in the oceans is intensifying and threatening the marine ecosystem and the human race with serious harm, Petch asked all stakeholders to urgently implement business campaigns and policies to reduce single-use plastic, which constitutes most of the plastic debris in the sea.
Ocean-borne plastic was already threatening more than 300 species, reducing biodiversity, degrading the ecosystem and affecting food security, he said.
Human health was also at risk, Petch said, since nearly all seafood – and sea salt – is now contaminated with micro-plastics.