Sri Lanka’s shores are flooding with plastic

June 4, 2021

Another preventable shipping disaster is polluting our oceans with plastics. Corporate greed and plastic addiction are driving ocean destruction across the globe.

Members of Sri Lankan Navy remove debris washed ashore from the Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl, which has been burning for the 12th consecutive day in the sea off Sri Lanka's Colombo Harbour, on a beach in Colombo on May 31, 2021.


The Singapore-registered X Press Pearl container ship was traveling from India to Singapore when it caught fire after a chemical leak triggered a reaction in the ship’s cargo.

When the ship exploded, its cargo of highly toxic contents was released into the ocean. The ship spilled billions of polyethylene and polypropylene pellets, 25 tons of nitric acid, and a variety of other chemicals and lubricants. Now, Sri Lanka’s shores are being flooded with hundreds of tons of plastic pellets, the type used as raw materials in the production of various plastic items including single-use plastic packaging.

As if the plastic pollution crisis wasn’t dire enough, these tiny pellets are causing devastation to the sea, the coastline, and the people and animals who call it home. Greenpeace is working day in and day out to expose corporations for their exploitation of our planet. Your support helps us investigate and report on their role in the plastic pollution crisis, put a stop to the flow of single-use plastics into our oceans and our communities, and push for systemic change that protects our planet.

While soldiers and volunteers are working around the clock to clean up the plastic pellets, it’s not happening fast enough. Due to the scale of the disaster and restrictions imposed by the current COVID-19 lockdown, it’s a near-impossible task.

The Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl carrying a mixed cargo of chemicals and plastics, sinks after burning for almost two weeks, just outside Colombo’s harbor on June 2, 2021.

This is a tragic disaster

Plastic is not just an ocean and waste problem, it is a climate, health and social justice problem too — that’s why Greenpeace is pushing back against corporations pushing the plastics addiction.

Want to know the most frustrating part? This disaster was preventable.

To stop this from happening again, Greenpeace is demanding:

  • The U.S. Congress should pass the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act, introduced in May 2021.
  • All cargo ships should use mandatory location systems for containers carrying dangerous goods. Fewer containers per ship should be used if the security of the transport is not guaranteed.
  • All cargo ships should be required to inform authorities (and the public) about lost or damaged cargo containers.
  • All cargo ships should be required to provide information about the cargo in any damaged containers (at the moment, this information is required only when claiming insurance money).
  • Plastic should be classified as an environmentally hazardous material and allocated appropriate IMFG codes.

And the most important demand: consumer goods companies MUST stop propping up the fossil fuel industry by using single-use plastics.

Enough is enough

This crisis is just another example of the implications of our single-use plastic addiction and the billion-dollar ad budgets of corporate polluters that feed it. Maybe this time can be different, if we get loud enough, we can show the world that we can’t go on like this. But we can’t do it without you.

Tell President Biden we’re counting on him to fight for a strong international agreement to protect the world’s oceans.

take action

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.