Ocean pollution has caught a lot of attention lately all over the world, with evidence of endangered marine life caused by plastic waste. The UN Environment Programme has reported that every year, there are 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the ocean globally. Not only that the waste is killing the inhabitants of the ocean, but also entering the human food chain.
The struggle in keeping the ocean as clean as possible has been a concern to a lot of countries. For example, we can see the “no straw movement” is already implemented, basically all over the world. But, let’s not focus on the world level just yet… What about what happens closer to home?
Southeast Asia is home to four of the world’s top marine plastic polluters — which is ironic considering this Asian region is surrounded by a huge body of water that seems to be the primadona of the region’s tourism. Reported by the environmental campaigner Ocean Conservancy, five Asian countries (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) are dumping more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined. Accounted for up to 60% of the plastic waste leaking into the ocean, these five countries should pay a great deal of attention for clean ocean.
As for the rest of the Southeast Asian countries, they’re not so innocent either in regards to plastic pollution. Take Singapore, for example, it was discovered in 2017 that a third of the 1.5 million tonnes of domestic waste disposed in Singapore consisted of packaging waste which primarily are plastic bags and food packaging. Channel News Asia even stated that the amount alone is enough to fill more than a thousand olympic size swimming pools!
After all those quite depressing facts, here comes the good news… There’s hope for our ocean just yet. At a UN oceans summit, delegates from the five Asian countries said they would work to keep plastics out of the seas, which Eric Solheim, UN’s environment director find to be quite encouraging.
But, the countries are not alone in this as there are more and more organisations and even individuals fighting alongside to keep the ocean clean. Let’s meet a couple of amazing Southeast Asian ladies that are considered to be the ocean heroes!
1. Tiza Mafira: Waging War on Plastic Bags in Indonesia
She’s a lawyer and director of the Indonesia Plastic Bag Diet Movement, who’s been waging war on plastic bags in Indonesia. With her organisation, Climate Policy Initiative, they asked retailers to stop giving out plastic bags for free which continued to introducing trial of a plastic bag charge. The campaign sought a success of 55% reduction of plastic bags use, as well as two cities have already banning plastic bags in modern retail stores. Mafira also campaigns for the creation of zero-waste cities, where every single piece of trash biodegrades in nature or circles back to become a raw material for production.
“I’m optimistic because progress has already been made and cautious because the more imminent change appears to be, the more interest groups attempt to strike it down,” she says.
2. Sasina Kaudelka: Grassroots Activism on the Beaches of Thailand
In 2015, Sasina Kaudelka co-founded the Ao Nang chapter of Trash Hero, where each week she along with local volunteers meet to clean up the beaches in Ao Nang and around the river near Krabi Town. By the following year, Trash Hero Thailand won the Thailand Green Excellence Award for its outstanding contribution to green tourism. For Kaudelka, the power of her group lies in people’s personal motivation to be the change they want to see, and she is confident that change is coming.
We have over 50 groups in Southeast Asia that started spontaneously from local people wanting to change and we see many other similar groups working to pressure government and industry to take action. I feel we are getting close to a tipping point where society will finally say ‘enough!’” she says.