The situation has gotten so bad that the army was recently called in to remove the plastic waste -- and prevent further dumping in the waterway, according to media reports.
It’s just one sliver of the massive pollution problem in Asia. China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are dumping more plastic into oceans than the rest of the world combined , according to a 2017 report by Ocean Conservancy. This isn’t just an Asia problem. Plastic is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world. The U.S. wasted about 33.6 million tons of plastic, and only 9.5% was recycled.
Not only does plastic kill marine life and choke seabirds, but toxic fragments from plastic can end up in the seafood we eat. It also requires decades to break down.
The situation isn't hopeless though. The best way to cut plastic waste is to cut consumption, experts say. Here are some ways you can join the movement this Earth Day.
Choose Filtered -- Not Bottled -- Water
This might be the hardest habit for consumers in Asia to kick. According to Green Earth, Hong Kong goes through 5.2 million plastic water bottles per day.
Enter Bluewater, a Swedish company hoping its energy efficient water-filtration technology will soon be in homes, offices and event spaces around Asia. The company hopes to increase the access of filtered water to the public and break the notion that bottled water is safer to drink than properly filtered water.
“It’s possible to consume water in a sustainable way and also one that tastes better,” says Bluewater CEO Anders Jacobson.
Can this concept kick off in boutiques, hotels or commercial retail spaces where imported bottles of water are a signifier of status in Asia?
Hong Kong's Landmark Mandarin Oriental is making a move toward serving in-house filtered, purified Nordaq water. Water dispensers will be available in guest rooms and the lobby, where guests are free to refill.
“This initiative shows that sustainability and luxury go hand-in-hand,” says Archie Keswick, General Manager of the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.
Make Food Delivery Sustainable
From street vendors in Vietnam and Thailand to widely food-delivery services throughout Asia, eating is hardly a green affair when it comes to the amount of plastic utensils used.
One e-commerce startup looking to combat the massive amount of waste generated from disposable utensils is Hong Kong-based The Kommon Goods, which produces eco-friendly lifestyle products to distribute to corporations, hotel chains and universities.
The kit includes bamboo chopsticks, reusable cutlery, a stainless steel water bottle and metal straws (cleaner included)!
“We’ve been so hardwired in Asia to prioritize convenience above all else. But being eco-conscious is as simple as saying you won’t need extra cutlery the next time you get takeout,” says Alvin Li, social advocate and Cofounder of Kommon Goods.
“Six million tons of non-durable plastics -- basically cutlery -- gets discarded every year. It is estimated that by the year 2050, plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish," he adds.
Say No To Plastic Bags
Last year, a third of the 1.67 million tons of domestic waste disposed in Singapore consisted of packaging waste, primarily plastic bags and food packaging. The amount is enough to fill more than 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to a Channel News Asia report.
Plastic bags are a convenient and a cost-effective way to pack groceries. But they're also non-biodegradable and usually end up in oceans.
This is why Taiwan is moving to ban all one-time use plastic, including bags, beverage cups and cutlery issued by restaurants and businesses by 2030. It has already taken steps to ban single-use plastic straws.
In places like China and Vietnam, food and beverages are often packed directly into plastic bags as an easy form of transportation. It’s unlikely the habit can change overnight. Take personal action: many vendors are happy to drop food or produce into your own container or Tupperware.
Join The Movement Yourself
It might not be the most glamorous way to spend the day, but it's an effective and meaningful one: participate in a beach cleanup. A group called One Island One Voice recently led a massive effort with over 20,000 people gathering to clean up 120 beaches around the popular Indonesian island of Bali.
You can also get involved by joining large organizations like the International Coastal Cleanup, which provide the tools to organize beach cleanups at a local level.
“In our daily life, personal action can always be taken by returning excessive plastic packages to a corporation, or sending letters to [companies] to request for plastic free alternatives. Going plastic free starts individually, before it extends to corporations and the community,” says Sion Chan, Plastic Campaigner at Greenpeace.
On a positive note, some of these systemic efforts are already being made.
Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the half-year closure of Boracayto tourists starting April 26, to clean up marine waste.
Meanwhile, Indonesia's government has set itself the ambitious target of making water from the Citarum River drinkable within seven years.
Hannah Leung, FORBES STAFF