SEATTLE — Plastic pollution affecting countries has always been an issue. More recently people have noticed just how much plastic is getting tossed into the oceans leading to plastic and microplastic pollution.
Microplastics are hard, small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters long. They are formed from larger pieces of plastic that have broken down over the years. These are harmful because fish ingest microplastics as food. The very same fish is consumed by people and the cycle continues.
Top 3 Countries with the Highest Plastic Pollution
The top three countries affected the most by plastic pollution are China at 8.8 metric tons, Indonesia at 3.2 metric tons and the Philippines at 1.9 metric tons. China and Indonesia are the top sources clogging global sea lanes. The Philippines comes in third for top plastic pollution around the world. Most of it can be seen on beaches and in their water supply.
China is the most populous country in the world and therefore produces more plastic waste. Most of this plastic ends up in the oceans around China; however, microplastics have found their way into China’s lakes and rivers. Microplastics have microbes attached to them which alter the chemical structure of these plastics that create toxins. These toxins make marine life sick. This affects the drinking water for the community and wildlife.
A study was done on the microbes in three water bodies in China: the Xiangshan Bay, Yangtze River and Lvsi Port. All three locations had bacteria that cause fish disease. Xiangshan Bay has tested positive for bacteria that causes gut diseases in the human body. These microbes affect fish supplies and clean drinking water.
Like China, plastic waste has not only affected the oceans but the rivers of Indonesia. Four of Indonesia’s rivers rank among the 20 most polluted rivers in the world. In April 2017, Badung city witnessed plastic pollution so thick that it resembled an iceberg and the military had to be sent to assist with the cleanup. Indonesia relies heavily on plastic to make consumer products because it is cheap. Everything from single-use utensils to tables and chairs are made of plastic. It is becoming more apparent to the community how large plastics and microplastics are affecting the country. Plastics are clogging river ways and blocking sources of food and water to the locals. Plastic, in the many landfills of Indonesia, releases toxins into the air and groundwater. These toxins seep into lakes and rivers further damaging clean water supplies.
The Philippines comes in third for plastic pollution. Single-use plastic sachets and lack of government involvement are the main issues linked to plastic pollution. Before the advent of sachet packaging, companies had people bring their own containers and fill it with whatever they needed. When plastic became popular in the 1970s companies switched to single-use sachets due to the low production cost to promote their company name and for their customers’ convenience.
With many cities still living below the poverty line, sachets are affordable but negatively impact cities and waterways. There are no garbage collection services, regardless of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. Frontline officials are not educated on proper waste management or how to implement it.
Fixing the Problem of Plastic Pollution
China has now banned imported waste. Meaning they are no longer taking waste from other countries for disposal. The economy has shifted to a higher grade output of plastics and now melts down their own plastic waste to reproduce it. China has also mandated that 46 cities must sort its garbage by 2020 which will increase recycling as well as composting of organic waste. Garbage pickers also look for material in landfills to sell to municipal factories. Incineration facilities are being built all over China to turn non-recyclable plastics into energy. Every year these practices grow and they are constantly looking for ways to reduce plastic waste.
In Indonesia, private and public organizations are working to reduce plastic waste across the country by educating school children, cleaning beaches and advocating for better waste management. August 19, 2018, was national Face the Sea day: an event held in 76 locations attended by 20,000 people who gathered to clean up waterways and beaches.
A lack of awareness about the problem is what slows down major policy responses. If more people are aware of the problem and reduce their plastic usage, corporations will follow suit in order to please their customers. Awareness will better the chances of Indonesia improving its lifestyle and fighting poverty.
A small city in the Philippines called San Fernando is leading the way in reducing plastic pollution. A city once covered in garbage now recycles and composts 78 percent of its trash. A new, cheap system was proposed to help fight poverty and reduce the cost of moving waste in the city, i.e. instead of trucks, poor people have been employed to move trash to facilities. They also separate compost items and recycle items from trash and resell other items. This system is effective because it helps the poor, reduces city expenses, keeps waterways clean and reduces stagnation of water consequently reducing mosquito-breeding areas. This translates to fewer cases of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever. Small cities are now adopting this new system to improve the conditions of the country and there are hopes of it continuing to grow over the years.
Educating people about plastic pollution and the ways to reduce it are the key to ending plastic pollution. Involving local governments will ultimately improve conditions because they can propose legislation for plastic alternatives and waste management systems. While China, Indonesia and the Philippines have the most plastic pollution in the world, they are looking for ways to reduce it and there is hope for a better future.
– Kayla Cammarota