Marine plastic pollution has increasingly been a concerning issue around the globe as the initial impact of marine plastic pollution is gradually emerging. But, where does plastic originate? Inadequate and overwhelmed waste management systems, open dumping, storms, and rain cause land-based sources of pollution to leak into rivers, the coastal areas, and oceans. An estimated 80 percent of all plastic waste in the oceans comes from land-based activities, and the remaining 20 percent comes from marine activities. The extent of sea-based sources of pollution, including abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear and waste from ships and ports and its devastating impacts to ecosystems and marine species remains underexplored.
Footages and news of the extent to which wildlife is being affected by marine plastic litter have shocked the world. The global community is beginning to understand the consequences of marine plastic pollution, but regional impact studies are still lacking. The paper finds that the main driving forces behind the severe marine plastic pollution in the South Asia region are primarily due to poor practices of waste management systems and inefficient informal plastic recycling sector. The consequences of marine plastic pollution in South Asia has been enormous, leading to threats to wildlife, community health concerns, and economic losses due to the severity of plastic litter and associated clean-up cost.
With a loosely implemented partial plastic bans in most of the countries in South Asia, our analysis shows that the existing measures are insufficient to slow down or even alleviate the situation as plastic production and consumption is expected to increase in the coming years. Also, we find that although the impact of plastic pollution in the marine ecosystem and climate change is known in the region, its quantification with respect to baseline at the city, national and regional level is lacking and unable to identify interventions related to technologies, mitigation, and management strategies. Likewise, due to significant income differences between the population in coastal and mainland areas, the socioeconomic impact needs to be assessed in the region because coastal tourism is affected, especially when tourists avoid beaches known to have high concentrations of plastic litter.
In order to increase the ability of countries to curb marine plastic pollution effectively in South Asia, the paper recommends that South Asian countries should: 1) improve and modernize waste management systems; 2) apply better enforcement mechanism on plastic use prohibitions, 3) introduce or straighten economic instruments, e.g., resource tax, technology for recycling mixed plastics, thermosets, alternate materials, etc.; 4) establish baseline data across region, including indicator monitoring, impact assessments across the terrestrial, aquatic, marine ecosystem, health and socio-economics; 5) closely cooperation among each other and between non-government organizations and the governments at local and national levels; and 6) more proactively participate in regional and international initiatives.
JEL code: F64, O13, O44, Q56
Keywords: Marine Plastic Pollution, South Asia, Plastic Waste, Plastic Recycling, Plastic Disposal, Sustainable Development.