Amid recent reports of the Mekong River’s massive contribution of plastic waste in the world’s oceans, Mekong Tourism stakeholders hammered down on a commitment to significantly reduce the river-bound waste in the short term at this year’s Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF).
The MTF session titled ‘Mekong Opportunities & Threats’ focused highly on single-use plastic pollution in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) and concluded with pledges from several institutional organizations and individuals to reduce single-plastic use over the next year.
“We wanted to get on-the-spot commitments from the industry players,” said Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO). “This is why we asked key delegates to record their pledges as well as post on their social media channels.
“Through this, we want to stress the urgency and effect of reducing single-use plastic in Asia right now, which we believe will have a profound impact on life around the Mekong River,” he said.
The mammoth Mekong River stretches to a sum total length of 4,350 km and passes through six countries in South East Asia. As one of the world’s longest water arteries, it has established to be an expressway for plastic waste to the South China Sea. The United Nations reports that over eight million tons of plastic make it into oceans each year. More shocking is that 86 per cent of ocean-bound plastic waste originates from Asian rivers alone.
“Plastic waste is a huge issue,” said MTF 2018 keynote speaker Jeremy Smith, author of ‘Transforming Travel – realizing the potential of sustainable tourism’. “We know that plastic pollution costs Asia-Pacific tourism, fishing, and shipping industries $1.3 billion USD per year according to [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] estimations.”
While Smith outlined South East Asia’s specific effect on the plastic waste epidemic, he also voiced his confidence in the anti-plastic efforts taking place in the region currently.
“Plastic has shot up the tourism industry agenda over the last few months,” said Smith.
“Congratulations to the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office for not only putting this at the heart of its Mekong Tourism Forum event schedule this year but also pledging to go plastic-free itself. This example is really key in encouraging others to make pledges of their own.”
Ultimately, MTF delegates voiced a positive and inspiring message to further compound a plastic reduction effort already taking shape in the region. Notably, in January 2018, China banned imports of plastic recyclables from other countries. This ban, in effect, will force countries and trade partners to reflect on their plastics usage and recycling programs.Another strong initiative is being led by a Cambodian-
based NGO called ‘Refill Not Landfill’. The two-year-old NGO vows to cut down on millions of plastic water bottles discarded in South East Asian countries each year by providing a reusable aluminium alternative and refilling stations all over the region.
BambooLao founder Arounothay Khoungkhakoune spoke passionately to MTF delegates about the importance of reducing plastic waste immediately. Ms. Khoungkhakoune started BambooLao in 2015 with a goal to offer a replacement for highly hazardous plastic straws with ones made from Laotian bamboo.
“I learned from local villagers that bamboo is a remarkable natural resource,” said Khoungkhakoune. “After spending a lot of time with them, I began to understand that bamboo has many different applications in medicine, construction, and even food.”
“With a low-maintenance cost and no need for artificial fertilisers for optimal growth, bamboo is a sustainable and viable option for reusable drinking straws,” she said.
After last year’s MTF in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, this year’s forum had again been active in reducing plastic waste as much as possible. Refill water stations were available across all venues at Nakhon Phanom University as well as hotels and other event spaces used for MTF purposes.
“We think that the MTF should play a leading role by showing that sustainable environmentally-friendly goals and actions are compatible with conference events,” said Thraenhart.
“We will add solutions, initiatives, and best practices to the planned NoPlastic.asia website.”
NoPlastic.Asia is a planned initiative run by Destination Mekong, a public-private partnership aimed at curating and promoting sustainable tourism opportunities in the GMS. The initiative is also aligned with the ‘Greater Mekong Subregion Tourism Sector Strategy 2016-2020’, a five-year strategy framework created and published by the MTCO in conjunction with each member county’s ministry of tourism with support from the Asian Development Bank.
Thraenhart and other MTF delegates expressed confidence by vowing to publicise their progress during MTF 2019 in Dali, Yunnan, China.