Southeast Asia Generates a Sea of Plastic Garbage
Row, Row, Row your boat
Environmentalists urge ocean cleanup
With gigantic plastic garbage patches growing in the Pacific Ocean, environmental groups are urging the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), on its 50th anniversary this month, to act on plastic pollution.
“ASEAN member countries can stop plastic pollution and protect our oceans by instituting policies that will reduce the use of single-use disposable plastics, protecting the region’s borders from becoming dumping grounds of waste and polluting waste management technologies from other countries, and implementing ecological and real solutions to the waste crisis,” said Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of the Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) movement.
Distressingly, it is unlikely that much will be done by Asean countries about the problem. Of the top ten countries responsible globally for plastic waste entering the ocean, five are in Asia, with China the top offender producing 2.22 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, and Indonesia second at 1.29 million, according to Surya Chandak, a senior program officer at the United Nations Environment Program, quoted in local media. Chandak cited the region’s growing economies and populations as prime culprits. The Philippines is third, Vietnam fourth, Thailand sixth and Malaysia eighth
The situation in the Pacific has clearly got out of hand as millions of tonnes of plastic waste are discarded into rivers and creeks and onto beaches, where the trash float into the sea, or is lost or dumped from ships. It is estimated that 91 percent of plastic globally is not recycled. In July, Capt. Charles More, founder of the Alagita Research Foundation, announced he had discovered a so-called “gyre” measuring upwards of a 1 million sq miles of plastic waste floating in the South Pacific. It is estimated to be larger than the entire country of Mexico.
It was Moore who discovered the North Pacific gyre, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in 1997. That one has grown to anywhere from 700,000 sq. km – the size of the US state of Texas — to more than 15,000 sq. km, or twice the size of the continental United States. It is difficult to tell exactly, scientists say, because much of the plastic breaks down into tiny chips that can’t be readily collected or reclaimed , much of it floating below the surface of the sea. Moore analyzed the size by collecting water samples across the region.
Such gigantic plastic patches are formed by ocean currents that swirl the materials together. There are seven such gyres, in every ocean on the planet.
Over the past six years, according to data collected by Moore, the problem has expanded dramatically. According to media reports, Henderson Island, located in the South Pacific region, was recently crowned the most plastic-polluted island on Earth, as researchers discovered it is covered in roughly 38 million pieces of trash. Frighteningly, 90 percent of sea birds ingest the trash.
“As demonstrated by many communities in Asian countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, China, South Korea, and India to name a few, Zero Waste is an economically-viable and sustainable solution to our region’s waste problem,” said Froilan Grate, Asia Pacific Regional Coordinator of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), in a prepared release. “But for it to work at the scale needed to solve the problem, we need our governments to promote and institutionalize it,”.
Zero Waste is an ecological resource management and reduction model that involves waste separation at source, product redesign, and systematic waste collection and management.
“In many Asian countries, Zero Waste may lean more heavily towards organic waste management because organics comprise more than 50 percent of the waste generated,” the group said. “Waste segregation allows households and communities to capture and manage different types of waste accordingly: recyclables are recycled and organics are managed through composting, biodigestion, and other methods of organics management.
What is left—the residual fraction—is then easier to see. Solutions for this fraction will be designed better to make sure that materials that can neither be truly recycled or composted are systematically reduced.
“By supporting ecological solutions, ASEAN governments cannot just turn around the issue of waste but become global leaders and pave the way for creating lasting, climate-friendly, people-centered systems,” Grate added, according to the release.