Plastic transport in a complex confluence of the Mekong River in Cambodia

Field data on plastic pollution is extremely limited in Southeast Asian rivers. Here we present the first field measurements of plastic transport in the Mekong, based on a comprehensive monitoring campaign during the monsoon season in the confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap, and Bassac rivers around Cambodia’s capital (Phnom Penh). During the wet season, around 2.03 × 105 kg d−1 of plastic were released from Phnom Penh into the Mekong, equivalent to 89 g d−1 capita−1, or 42% of all plastic waste generated in the city. Most plastic mass moved downstream at the surface. A smaller portion of plastics is mixed deep into the water column, potentially retained in the rivers, breaking down and resuspending over time. Overall, plastic waste from Phnom Penh and transported by the Mekong is a significant contribution to Southeast Asia’s plastic release into the ocean. This pollution represents a crucial risk to people in the region, as their livelihoods depend on fisheries from these water bodies.

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Haberstroh, C.J., M.E. Arias, Z. Yin, T. Sok, and M.C. Wang

Publication Date

7 September 2021

Publication Name

Environmental Research Letters


Mekong, Tonle Sap, acoustic Doppler current profiler, Raman spectroscopy, South East Asia, plastic pollution