Turtles, seabirds, seals, and whales are well-documented victims of out of control plastic pollution, but when was the last time you saw a video of a person suffering in the grips of the global plastics crisis?
You’d be forgiven if you believed humans were somehow immune to this tragedy, as their stories are so rarely broadcast. Our social media feeds are rightfully overflowing (at least mine is) with videos of turtles with straws jammed in their nostrils or photos of dead birds and whales with single-use plastics in their stomach. This coverage is heart-wrenching, and essential, but it fails to tell the whole story of the plastics pollution crisis.
Both around the world and in our own countries, waste often flows into the communities without the money or government support to protect themselves. We need to wake up to the fact that plastic pollution is an environmental justice issue.
A new research collaboration between Greenpeace East Asia and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) has detailed the flow of “recyclable” plastics around the world and its impact on people.
1. Plastic waste floods into the countries that aren’t prepared to stop it — or manage it.
At the beginning of 2018, China stopped accepting the world’s waste including plastic, paper and textile. Previously, Chinese recyclers had accepted recycled plastic waste from the world’s top exporters – USA, UK, Germany, and Japan to feed the country’s demand for materials. All of that practically stopped in 2018, and waste started to flood into Southeast Asia.
First, it went to Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, who all set up restrictions to limit the plastic waste from coming in. Once they had some success in slowing down the flow, it went to the next victim: most noticeably Indonesia.
GAIA investigated the impact of the plastics waste flowing into these communities, where it found waste piled ten feet high, crops poisoned, and open plastic burning, which seriously affects people living nearby, as toxic gases release into the air while plastic burns.
2. When they don’t manage to export the plastic waste, it often ends up in vulnerable communities.
Not knowing where to export plastics to, many exporting countries in North America and Europe have watched the waste pile up at home. News reports have shown that it piles up in less-wealthy, more at-risk communities. There, it becomes a public health problem. The recycling system only works to target the vulnerable — around the world and around your city.
3. Corporations profit from plastics.
Corporations like Nestlé and Unilever profit wildly from single-use plastic packaging, while peddling the myth of recycling as a solution. But anyone who has thought seriously about the issue can see that recycling could never handle the amount of plastic surrounding our everyday life.
Also, don’t forget that plastic is itself created from fossil fuels and lobbied for by the fossil fuel industry, while they desperately try to maintain the single-use plastic status quo instead of tackling the problem at source. Only by stopping the production of single-use plastics can this crisis be addressed. But these companies try to keep you in the dark by claiming recycling can solve the plastic pollution crisis to ensure their profit at the expense of people right now, today.
Learn more from GAIA field research here and by reading the Greenpeace East Asia report here
Kate Lin is a senior campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, based in Hong Kong
Ask world leaders to support a strong global plastic treaty that addresses the whole life cycle of plastic.
It's a great story. A question to the author and/or the Greenpeace. Would it be possible for me to copy the photo of "piles of plastic in Malaysia" shown above in an article I am writing to a Korean daily Newspaper, the Korea Times published in Virginia? I am a pro bono freelancer and am writing a column on plastic pollution for the newspaper. Thank you very much in advance.
Hi! You are welcome to register an account at https://media.greenpeace.org/ and use the photo so long as it's in line with our copyright guidelines
I just been to Timor and Rote island in East Indonesia, 200 k from Australia, the pristine beaches and ocean there is full of plastic. Agar agar farming uses waste plastic bottles to keep the agar afloat but disintegrate quickly after are dumped on the beach, then everything you buy and consume and buy is cheap plastic and the flow Of plastic is endless. Near the border with Timor leste my friend send me pictures of a dolphin that was killed by plastic in her stomach. Some brands like all bottle water companies and Coco cola companies should be boycotted as you caN literally see the damage they cause. It is devastating Indonesia and all ecosystems there. We have been slowly killing our little planet many ways which should deeply sadden and motivate new leadership because I have lost all trust and believe that my species is able to do anything that really has impact. At least my generation has fallen asleep and created robots that make babies but forgot how they got there in the first place. Sad but true, including undesigned, we are all short term thinking hypocritical beings.
I am trying my very hardest to stem the flow of 8,000,000 tons of waste from first entering our oceans can you help me ? www.oceanresourcemanagement.co.uk
our vessels Esperanza and Arctic-Sunrise are right now in the Svalbard (Spitzbergen) - do you know that there is much plastic waste along the shores of that arctic archipelago, and that at least 90% (ninety percent) of those plastic trash are from the fishing fleet.
We must fight plastic pollution by the way of education and concience creation. I suggest to use music, for instance. Watch this song with a touch of humor with a message about this: https://youtu.be/KuvM5-AQW5Y