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Japan to propose int'l framework on plastic waste in oceans at G-20 meet

A massive amount of plastic waste that washed ashore at a beach on the Sadamisaki Peninsula in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, is seen in this file photo taken on July 4, 2018. (Mainichi/Yusuke Komatsu)

TOKYO -- Japan is set to propose establishing an international framework for amassing basic data on plastic waste, including the amount of such waste flowing into oceans, at an upcoming meeting of Group of 20 (G-20) major countries and regions, those linked to the government said.

If agreed on, it will be the world's first framework for countermeasures against plastic waste in the sea.

The move, which Japan will propose at the G-20 meeting of Cabinet ministers concerned with environmental and energy issues in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, in central Japan on June 15 and 16, is aimed at clarifying the mechanism of the generation and ocean circulation of plastic garbage. Tokyo will urge Southeast Asian countries, which are believed to generate massive amounts of such waste, to take similar measures.

The G-20 ministers will highly likely support Japan's proposal because these countries and regions have basically agreed on the need for measures to prevent plastic waste from flowing into oceans.

U.S. and Australian researchers estimate that 4.78 million to 12.75 million metric tons of plastic waste is flowing into the sea each year. However, how plastic waste is flowing into oceans from rivers, as well as the mechanism of such substances contaminating the sea, among other points, remain shrouded in mystery.

While the volume of plastic waste flowing from Japan into the sea remains unclear, waters around Japan are regarded as a hot spot where a particularly large amount of such waste is floating.

Japan will propose to its G-20 partners to submit a report on the total amount of plastic waste they generate annually and how they incinerate or recycle such substances on the grounds that it is necessary to grasp the entire picture of the contamination of oceans with plastic waste before drawing up countermeasures, according to the sources.

Tokyo is also considering setting up an international organization to gain insight from these reports.

Roughly half of plastic waste in oceans has been dumped by the G-20 countries and regions. Estimates also show that G-20 members and Southeast Asian nations that lag behind in the construction of disposal facilities are responsible for over 70 percent of such waste floating in oceans.

The government will urge Southeast Asian countries to participate in the framework with an eye to eventually establishing international rules at the United Nations.

Among Southeast Asian nations, Indonesia is a member of the G-20, while representatives of Thailand that holds the presidency of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year has been invited to the upcoming G-20 conference.

Tokyo is poised to extend technical assistance to ASEAN members to help them dispose of waste while moving ahead with the creation of a monitoring post for plastic garbage drifting in the Pacific Ocean.

Plastic waste breaks up into small pieces measuring 5 millimeters or smaller after being exposed to ultraviolet rays while drafting in the sea. Since such microplastic pieces tend to absorb hazardous chemicals, concerns have been raised over their impact on the ecosystem.

(Japanese original by Toshiyuki Suzuki, Science & Environment News Department)

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