Singapore is a member country of COBSEA and a knowledge partner country for SEA circular. SEA circular is working closely with the National University of Singapore to develop research efforts and science in the region, such as the research on pollution from marine plastics in South-East Asia and East Asia (ASEAN+3).

Causes and challenges

Singapore is waging a battle against the increasing consumption of plastics – plastic bags, disposables, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle use. The island state is estimated to use about 1.76 billion plastic items each year, according to the Singapore Environment Council’s position paper published in 2018. This includes 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets, 467 million PET bottles and 473 million plastic disposable items like takeaway containers. This waste generation is exacerbated by the low recycling rates, at 6% in 2017 (Dept. of Statistics, Singapore 2017), reinforced by the general lack of awareness about recycling about by the public.

The environmental impacts of plastic waste are increasing – alongside detrimental effects on the economy. In 2019, the country’s Resource Sustainability Bill was passed to provide regulatory teeth for the government to implement measures to reduce waste from three key streams: electronic waste, food waste and packaging waste.

Singapore’s domestic recycling rate is low.  In comparison, the industrial sector recycled 74 per cent of its waste last year. Among the reasons for the poor domestic recycling rate is the contamination of recyclables, which occurs when food or other waste is thrown into recycling bins, and segregation is inefficient.

Increasing plastic waste is generated due to levels of consumption and a culture of convenience – deliveries and take-out meals are commonplace. This is combined with relatively low awareness about recycling. 

Ways forward

Singapore is at the forefront in implementing various initiatives to manage the domestic waste generated, from building waste-to-energy plants to investing heavily in waste management infrastructure. Singapore is exploring the establishment of local e-waste recycling facilities, and is also financing research into plastic recycling solutions and technologies, and their suitability for Singapore. 

In 2019, Singapore passed the Resource Sustainability Bill, part of the government’s zero-waste initiatives. The bill mandates a system-level approach to enable nation-wide reuse and recycling, establishes the mandatory reporting framework for packaging beginning 2020.  

Businesses will be required to annually report on types and amounts of packaging materials they bring into the market and their packaging waste reduction plans. The aim is bring greater awareness to companies on the potential for waste reduction and spur them to take action to reduce use and waste in their business operations. The data from this mandatory reporting will lay the foundation for an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Framework for managing packaging waste in Singapore, which is targeted for 2025.

Download SEA circular Country Profile for Singapore for more information

Republic of Korea

As a COBSEA participating country, the Republic of Korea is a knowledge partner for SEA circular. The Republic of Korea has developed policies, initiatives, coordinated processes, scientific data and research which SEA circular will utilize to advance regional action and knowledge exchange.

Causes and challenges

South Korea is one of the world’s biggest plastic consumers. Municipal solid waste management is a challenge, with the Ministry of Environment claiming that there are 1.2 million tons of illegally abandoned waste across South Korea. As a consequence, marine litter has become a serious environmental, economic and social problem.  The fishery industry has been particularly effected.

Korea aims to deal with waste produced in the country through recycling, processing into fuel, or incineration. However, due to tightened regulations on waste-to-energy plants and waste incineration facilities, the number of incineration facilities has fallen significantly. Excess waste is frequently exported and can end up polluting neighbouring countries in South-East Asia.

Ways Forward

Since the late 1990’s, the South Korean government has initiated research and development of integrated management strategies and guidelines to prevent marine litter at the national level. This includes a survey of ports and other coastal regions of Korea and activities for marine litter clean-up.

Initiatives are underway for the prevention of plastic litter entering the coastal environments especially from the land-based sources.  Other advances are underway to promote a more circular economy. 

Download SEA circular Country Profile for South Korea for more information

People’s Republic of China

Causes and challenges

China is often regarded as the nation with most marine litter by volume. Of the top 10 rivers with most debris that empty into the seas, seven of them are in China.

The majority of the waste was dumped in the delta regions of the Yangtze and Pearl rivers, both major industrial zones on China’s eastern coast.

Ways Forward

China imposed a ban on the importation of post-consumer plastics in early 2018. Subsequently, China’s National Development and Reform Commission Policy has announced that it will further its measures on preventing marine litter inclusive of bans on non-degradable, single-use plastic straws nationwide by the end of 2020, with the goal of reducing the “intensity of consumption” of such plastic utensils by takeout services in urban areas by 30% by 2025.

Download the SEA circular Country Profile for China for more information

Viet Nam

Causes and challenges

There is extensive leakage of plastic waste into water and waste water in Viet Nam, ultimately leading to marine litter and plastic pollution. This is due to uncollected waste and the current waste collection, transportation and disposal practices.

Viet Nam accounts for 0.28 – 0.73 million tonnes per year of marine plastic leakage. The main sources of plastic marine debris consist of widely used plastic products and mismanaged municipal solid waste.Ha Long bay is a prominent natural heritage site, and Cat Ba is a world biosphere reserve. Both these areas have unique marine ecosystems which are extensively impacted by plastic pollution.

Waste generation starts from the point of consumption and extends to its collection and disposal.The total estimated municipal solid waste (MSW) generation in Viet Nam is about 19 million tonnes per year (2015). The average waste generated per capita is about 1.20 kg/person/day. The unmanaged plastic waste component of MSW during its collection, transportation & disposal gets leaked into the ocean.

Ways forward

Viet Nam has basic policies, strategies and action plans – including an environmental regulatory framework – to address requirements for waste management. Viet Nam intends to pursue waste reduction and waste minimization, leading to “Zero Waste”. There are plans to increase recycling rates, promote resource efficiency and green the supply chain. Viet Nam has committed to address marine litter and plastic pollution and achieve SDG 14, target 14.1. As part of this commitment, Viet Nam has participated in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) and other multilateral and intergovernmental fora on the protection of marine environment, and the prevention and reduction of marine debris.

Opportunities for further action include: Enhancing financial resources and technical capacities for sustainable solid waste management; translating national waste management targets into strategies and action plans; designing and implementing a specific packaging waste directive or law, and; applying Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging waste.

Download SEA circular country profile for Viet Nam for more information


Approximately 51,000 tons of the uncollected and improperly disposed plastic waste in Thailand gets washed into the sea each year. Along Thailand’s 3219km coastline – rich in coastal and marine biodiversity – plastic pollution is impacting the beaches, coral zone and mangrove ecosystems.

Causes and challenges

Economic growth – bringing increasing production and consumption – is leading to higher waste generation. Plastic production in Thailand is growing at 2.9 percent annually and it’s increasing. Plastic packaging waste is a major component of the waste found on the beaches in Thailand.

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) collection rates in Thailand vary significantly between urban and rural areas. Open dumpsites outnumber sanitary landfill, with open dumping the most commonly used method of MSW disposal. Just 0.5 million tonnes of the plastic waste can currently be reused, whilst the remaining 1.5 million tonnes, (80 percent of which are single-use plastic bags) accumulate in official dumping sites or elsewhere. The unmanaged plastic waste component of MSW during its collection, transportation and disposal gets leaked into the ocean.

Ways forward

Thailand has strongly committed to address marine litter and plastic pollution. There is a well established and emerging environmental regulatory framework in place, supported by strong acts, plans and regulations. A marine litter and plastic waste master plan is under preparation. Key players in the private sector are involved in circular economy initiatives, as well as supporting recycling and disposal of plastic MSW, industrial and hazardous waste. Civil society organizations have undertaken successful initiatives to address marine litter and plastic pollution. Clear indicators and targets have been identified to reduce single use plastic production, increase recycling rates, improve packaging options and increase consumer awareness.

Download the SEA circular Country Profile for Thailand for more information


The Philippines is one of the world’s worst offenders on marine plastic pollution, with 0.28 – 0.75 million tonnes per year of plastic entering to oceans from coastal areas in Manila Bay. The country uses almost 60 billion sachets a year (GAIA, March 2020). Economic growth, combined with enhanced production and consumption, is leading to higher waste generation in Philippines.

Causes and challenges

The plastic market in Philippines is above 1283.71 million US$ (2016), with a compounded annual growth rate of 6.11% (forecast for period 2018-2023). Plastic used for packaging is about 48% (2017), with packaging waste the major contributor to marine litter & plastic pollution.  Collection of solid wastes is mostly being managed by the local government unit (LGU). In many areas of the country, local governments lack access to waste collection services and recycling facilities. Where they are available, inefficiencies in collection, transportation, treatment and disposal systems affect wastewater and drainage systems further, leading to marine litter and plastic pollution. 

The country’s urban waste collection services cover a range of 80% to 100% of the area, while the ranges are lower from 40% to 85% at the national level. In squatter areas (informal settlement areas), waste is often not collected at all, leading to illegal dumping. Waste thrown into waterways contributes to frequent flooding in the Metro region. This eventually leaks to the marine environment and have negative impacts on revenue-generating nature-based tourism, as well as on the fishing industry. Fishermen have commented that plastics are smothering coral reefs, resulting in lower fish yields and ecosystem-wide impacts.

Socio-economic trends also indicate an annual population growth rate of 1.5%, forecast to grow to a 125.4 million people in 2030, with more than 60% living along the country’s coastline. The confluence of a growing population, rising incomes and consumption, inadequate infrastructure, and weak regulations combine to put the Philippines high on the list of nations with major waste leakage and plastic pollution problems.

Ways forward

Opportunities exist in the country to develop integrated and comprehensive policies and strategies for plastic waste management. This includes enhancing institutional, technical and financial capacities of Local Government Units (LGUs) to manage municipal solid waste, including packaging waste.

In 2018, the DENR earmarked 1.25 billion PhP (23 million US$) out of a national budget of 27 billion PhP (499 million US$) for the environmental protection programme for clean water, air and solid waste management.
The Philippines aims to promote 60% recovery and recycling of plastic by 2030 and offers opportunities for the private sector for technology transfer and assimilation in plastic waste management, particularly for different plastic waste streams. For example, Polystyrene Packaging Council of the Philippines, a group of 21 foam polystyrene producers, has set up a recycling plant. The Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability (PARMS), a multi-sectoral coalition composed of top consumer goods companies, also plans to build a 25 million PhP (0.46 million US$) recycling facility for sachets in Metro Manila.

Finally, efforts are made to formalise waste picker initiatives as PPP solutions by giving informal recyclers and junk shops concessions to collect or receive materials/ to operate recycling centres (for example in Quezon City).

Download SEA circular Country Profile for the Philippines for more information


Marine litter and plastic pollution is a serious issue in Malaysia. The country is working to enhance collective efforts towards long-term cooperation to address this challenge.

Causes and challenges

Malaysia receives a large amount of illegally traded plastic waste. Domestic enforcement has been stepped up, but the country still needs all Parties to cooperate, to enhance existing legal instruments or through establishing a new global treaty.

Ways forward

At a regional level, Malaysia plays an active role as a member of the Coordinating body of the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) and the ASEAN working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment. These platforms are useful vehicles to strengthen national work on marine debris and plastic pollution.

National policy-level intervention is also underway, such as the implementation of the ‘Malaysia Roadmap Towards Zero Single Used Plastics, 2018- 2030’ (October 2018).

Malaysia is also seeking opportunities to deploy technologies to address the issue of plastic pollution from enforcement to finding alternatives. Malaysia also recognises that apart from reduce, recycle and reuse, the focus should also be “replace”, which requires the application of new technologies and alternatives such as environment friendly polymers.

Increasing awareness, education, capacity and resourcing is also considered important to tackle marine plastic pollution at source. The country is working to enhance the intersectoral cooperation, with NGOs, private sector and international partners, to address the issue holistically, together with the Government.

Download SEA circular Country Profile for Malaysia for more information


Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, is believed to be the world’s second-largest contributor of plastic pollutants in the oceans, after China.  Home about 267 million people, strong economic growth and an expanding middle class is driving the consumption of more and more products often containing, or wrapped in, some sort of plastic. Indonesia is currently estimated to produce more than 190,000 tons of waste each day, the majority (around 57 percent) of which is organic waste. Plastic is estimated to contribute around 25,000 tons per day to total waste, of which – at least – 20% is believed to end up in rivers and coastal waters.

Causes and challenges

Increased domestic consumption coupled with higher growth of manufacturing & service sector has led to higher waste generation in Indonesia. Due to uncollected waste and the current waste collection, transportation and disposal practices, there is extensive leakage of plastic waste in water and wastewater, ultimately leading to marine litter and plastic pollution. About 10-15% of plastic waste is recycled, 60-70% is put on final disposal sites, 15-30% leaks into rivers, lakes and the sea. 

Indonesia has basic environmental policy and regulatory framework to address future requirements. Nevertheless, the lack of baseline data and technology for addressing both existing and emerging plastic waste streams is hampering its efforts towards plastic waste handling and treatment facilities are often lacking. Need for capacity building exists for choosing the most adequate technologies. Further, there is lack of skilled human resources to address emerging plastic waste streams and lack of private sector participation in plastic waste management. There has been no major initiative related to development of financial mechanism or institutional framework for developing plastic recycling industry in the country. There is a considerable lack of funding at the regulatory level, causing insufficient monitoring, controlling and enforcement of plastic waste treatment and disposal.

Ways forward

Indonesia introduced a plastic bag tax for a trial period of 3 months at selected retailers in 23 cities including Jakarta (200 rupiah / 0.01 US$ per bag) in 2016. The city of Banjarmasin introduced a ban on plastic bags in 2016, resulting in an 80% reduction in plastic bag consumption. A similar ban on the use of Styrofoam was introduced in the city of Bandung. Bogor city issued in July 2018 a plastic bag ban. The Ministry of Industry is considering the increase of biobased plastic consumption to 5% of total national plastic consumption. The current use of bioplastic in the country is less than 1% or around 3,000 t / year. The country also intends to achieve: MSW including plastic waste reduction by promoting and implementing various national regulations as the National Policy and Strategy on Solid Waste Management and plastic waste management, Government Regulation concerning Special Solid Waste Management, Promoting and implementing EPR Policy and Implementing the 10-year roadmap for EPR Implementation.  The country has given its commitment to achieve SDG 14, target 14.1.

Download the SEA circular Country Profile for Indonesia for more information


Causes and Challenges

Cambodia lacks adequate waste management infrastructure. Recycling is virtually non-existent. The result of inadequately managed plastic waste is the accumulation of litter in waterways throughout the country. Technical assistance is required to improve environmental governance and establish additional regulatory frameworks.


Ways Forward

The Ministry of Environment of Cambodia has issued a number of laws and regulations to combat the causes of pollution by encouraging relevant government’s institutions, private sectors, environmental groups, and local community to take action on plastic waste pollution and micro-plastic contamination. 

Ways forward include increasing investment into finding suitable alternatives, capacity building for the private and public sector at every level of government.

Download the SEA circular Country Profile for Cambodia for more information