What is plastic pollution and why there is not a shared solution in place?
We use plastic everywhere because it is cheap, durable and in many cases, practical. However, if not disposed of properly, plastic can bring devastating consequences. Every year marine plastic kills 100 million aquatic animals, many of which belong to endangered species, and are already threatened by man-made activities and climate change.
Where is plastic pollution mostly found?
Plastic pollution is a shared responsibility. Over 80% of marine plastics originate from land and rivers are a major pathway, transporting waste from both inland and coastal areas into the seas.
While this is a global problem, the communities where waste-collection systems are inefficient or nonexistent are the most likely to contribute to plastic pollution.
Often the communities most affected by plastic pollution are also faced with poverty and in the short term, they must prioritize other basic human needs, such as securing shelter and food, over protecting the environment. Further, regional funding is directed to solve more compelling problems and the responsibility to address river plastic pollution is delegated to multiple entities.
As plastic waste usually passes through many hands before it enters and pollutes the environment, travelling far from its place of origin; to attribute responsibility can be challenging.
Asia, with its fast-growing population, is home to 15 of the 20 most contaminated rivers in the world, while 86% of river-borne plastic waste flows into the oceans from this continent. Untill recently, developed countries imported part of their waste to developing countries, making waste pollution everyone’s responsibility.
Cultures linked to rivers rely on them for food and water; commerce, traditions and social interactions are carried on the streams. When one river is polluted, the entire society is going to suffer. Not only locally.
How does plastic end up in the ocean?
Most plastic reaches the ocean from land. Rivers are a major pathway, sweeping plastic waste from even the highest mountains to coasts and seas. When plastic waste is not disposed of properly, rains and wind can carry it long distances while storm drains spill untreated waste into rivers and the ocean. Maritime industries and activities contribute approximately 20% of ocean plastic pollution. For example, the fishing nets, either accidentally broken or discarded into open oceans, remain as ‘ghost nets’, threatening marine life in the oceans for many years.