Mekong River Body Raises ‘Alarm’ Over River Plastics

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Plastic trash on Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva shore on September 15, 2021. (Michael Dickison/VOD)
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Mekong countries are producing 8 million tons of plastic waste a year — three-quarters of which is littered or inadequately disposed of — polluting rivers and endangering environmental and human health, the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission said.

The commission on Wednesday released a report on riverine plastic pollution based on monitoring surveys in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Citing its monitoring and previous studies, the report said as much as 100 tons of plastic debris may be flowing through the Mekong every day, including both macroplastics — predominantly wrappers and foam — and microplastics such as polypropylene.

Barriers along the river were choked with bags, bottles and other trash, and several unofficial dumpsites were found along the water. The four Mekong countries produced an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste in 2020 and all had at least 75% “mismanaged waste,” or trash that is either littered or inadequately disposed of, the report said.

“The Mekong River Commission is sounding the alarm on the growing challenge of macroplastics and microplastics, urging its four Member Countries to establish a joint, permanent mechanism to monitor and clean up pollutants that seep into the soil, air and fisheries,” the commission said in a statement.

However, the MRC’s study was only preliminary, due to a lack of standardized survey methods, and there was a need for regular, scientific monitoring of riverine plastic waste, it said.

“Our work doesn’t end here, as much more must be done to protect the Mekong River Basin,” said MRC chief executive Anoulak Kittikhoun. “We’ll look into more campaigns to raise public awareness and how to encourage relevant government officials to take meaningful actions.”

Research released in 2021 showed that hundreds of tons of plastic was carried away daily from Phnom Penh along the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers, traveling up these critical waterways and hurting aquatic life and human well-being.

The research found that 203 tons of plastic was discharged from Phnom Penh daily, accounting for 42 percent of all plastic waste thought to be generated in the capital.

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