Stop Blaming Asian Countries. Start Holding Corporations Accountable for Plastic Pollution.

by Kate Melges

April 26, 2018

For too long, corporations have put the blame on everyone but themselves for plastic pollution. It's time to fight back and demand accountability.

Earth Day, 2018. Greenpeace activists in Hong Kong send a message to corporations that they need to break free from plastic.

Ahead of Earth Day, USA Today published an awful editorial that dismissed concerns over ocean plastic pollution and pointed blame at Asian countries and messy fishermen. The writer’s father worked for Dow Chemical, so the bias is clear, but the piece completely misconstrued the plastic pollution crisis and left out key facts.

It did, however, get one thing right — pointing out that individuals shouldn’t feel guilty over all of this plastic pollution.

That’s because corporations should.

For far too long, corporations like Nestle, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever have produced endless plastic pollution and put the responsibility on us to clean up their mess. We’ve been told that recycling will take care of everything, and that as long as we throw things away properly or use a reusable bag, we’re doing our part. The problem is that over 90 percent of plastics ever produced have not been recycled, according to Science Advances.

The editorial put an awful lot of blame on Asian countries’ waste management systems, but conveniently ignored the mostly western corporations that are exploiting those poorer countries with cheap, single-use sachets and turning the other way on plastic pollution that lasts a lifetime. It ignores the fact that developed countries like the U.S. export plastic waste to Asian countries, forcing our mess onto countries without the infrastructure in place to support it.

Workers cleaning the garbage that are stuck from Ciliwung river on the watergate Manggarai, South Jakarta. This is a crisis created by corporations — and they need to fix it.

Instead of focusing on what to do with our plastic trash once it has been discarded, we need to stop producing it in the first place. It makes no sense to keep making products that we use once and throw away out of material that lasts forever. The responsibility for our growing plastic pollution crisis is on the companies that are producing and selling plastic.

Every single minute the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans. Much of this pollution isn’t in the form of islands of plastic trash floating somewhere far off at sea, as the editorial suggested. Trillions of microplastics now infest coastal waters, an increasing number of which are ingested by marine life, and enter our food and water supplies. In fact, eighty-three percent of tap water recently sampled contained potentially toxic microplastics.

The results of a research carried out in Hong Kong show the presence of microplastic in 60% of wild Flathead Grey Mullet, a species commonly served in Chinese meals. The test indicates the chance of finding toxins in our meals and along the food chain is high, illustrating that plastic pollution is part of our daily life.

Plastic is everywhere, and to suggest it’s solely on consumers to make better choices is misguided. But it IS on corporations to innovate and stop producing so much throwaway plastic in the first place. Because plastic pollution is a real problem, and one we can’t ignore.

Kate Melges

By Kate Melges

Kate Melges is an oceans campaigner based in Seattle. She leads Greenpeace’s Ocean Plastics work. Kate’s focus is ending the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean.

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.