China, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN will work together to address the issue of plastic waste in the ocean, which is affecting fishery, tourism and possibly people's health.
Leaders from the three countries and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations discussed the launch of the ASEAN+3 Marine Plastics Debris Cooperative Action Initiative on Thursday during the ASEAN Plus Three Summit in Singapore.
A significant amount of plastic waste in the ocean comes from shopping bags and beverage bottles thrown into waterways that empty into the sea. The waste is particularly prevalent in Asia's oceans and rivers, posing an environmental threat to the region.
"I wish to see enhanced inter-regional cooperation on waters becoming the serious challenge dealing with marine plastic debris," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the beginning of the ASEAN Plus Three meeting.
Under the initiative, the thirteen countries will work together to "develop capacity" for monitoring plastic waste in the ocean and share best practices of each country.
They will also cooperate in research about marine debris, collection of scientific information about it, and assessments of its impact on marine organisms and the ecosystem.
The next step will be a special ASEAN ministerial meeting on the issue in March 2019.
In Southeast and East Asia, the marine fishery sector is a primary industry for most countries. Additionally, many count on their pristine beaches to attract foreign tourists, making care for the environment crucial.
The region has tended to prioritize economic growth over environmental issues, but as plastic waste piles up, the problem can no longer be ignored.
This year, the issue has attracted more attention as China -- once the world's biggest importer of scrap plastic -- stopped importing the recyclable material.
With investors becoming more aware of the situation, businesses have started reducing their use of plastic for straws, cups and other commonly used items.