December 17th, 2016
Source: PRI | Image Courtesy – The National Geographic
In today’s world, plastic is proving to be the primary product detrimental to the environment. While most of us think that the plastic we dump in dustbins gets ultimately dumped in lands, the oceans and seas record for a greater amount of plastic pollution.
Coastal villages of Jakarta
The water around the coastal village of Muara Angke in Jakarta can be a pretty vivid example of how plastic is devouring the oceans. The water displays a multitude of colours — from black to green and white — owing to the massive pollution levels. Plastic trash can be found floating like hundreds of jellyfishes. Tonnes of soda bottles, diapers, wrappers, etc. float on the surface. The water can’t be seen for miles. Jakarta is generating mountains of trash each day, and most of it gets disposed into the water due to the lack of a waste management system. Muara Angke is drowning in plastic trash. Plastic is on every footpath and patch of sand.
Circulation of floating trash
Plastic thrown into water does not float in the same place. Currents can carry those around the world. And along the course, it disintegrates and pollutes the sea life. This toxicity is, in turn, infused into human bodies all over the world as we consume from seafood, whether as our favourite Salmon or Tuna.
Seattle-based oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer projects that the way humans are transforming oceans to dumping fields, it is possible that by 2050, the seas will contain more plastic than fish. Ebbesmeyer says that these seaborne plastic leaks chemicals, when ingested, can weaken human sperm, potentially threatening our ability to reproduce. “This is death by a million cuts,” he told PRI.
No place on Earth is immune to such plastic pollution, but the island of Java is where this crisis excels because of the burst of population in the island and the presence of very few garbage trucks.
China, causing the highest plastic pollution in seas
The plastic that is dumped the coasts of America in the form of a toothbrush may float to the coast of China, the primary recycler of America’s plastic waste, where it can be moulded to a drinking straw. It is a global cycle after all. China is a scarier picture to depict. Less than half of its trash ends up in landfills, and much more ends up in the ocean.
More than half of the plastic coming to sea water is from this region. China, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka are the top six polluters on Earth.
The US contributes 1 percent of all the plastic spewed into the ocean. China is responsible for one-third.
The absence of proper waste disposal system
In highly developed countries like the US, garbage trucks take away trash at least once a week. But nearly half of humanity doesn’t have such privilege. Garbage piles up in the open.
The problem is more acute in Asia where the population skyrocketed with growth in industries. People with no access to garbage trucks and even dumpsters in some cases, throw all the rubbish into the local water bodies, especially rivers. These rivers, in turn, serve as conveyor belts of garbage to the oceans.
Late last year, Java’s rivers were so clogged that the government proclaimed garbage a “state of emergency.”
PRI reports, there are 5.2 trillion bits of plastic in the sea, according to the 5 Gyres Institute.
That’s 52 times the estimated number of stars in the Milky Way. Humans cannot possibly clean up this mess.
Fighting the waste problem
The waste management system in China and Southeast Asia is underfunded. To keep a check of the plastic dropped into water, it requires around $4.5 billion per year.
In China and in many districts of Manila, the capital of Philippines, the thinnest plastic bags, which are difficult to recycle have been banned.
In Jakarta, the local government is deploying 4,000 people to remove plastic junk out of rivers before its gets into the ocean
The world is choking to acute pollution problem and plastic accounts to be one of the biggest pollutants. Humanity may not save the Earth from the damage that has already been done. But we have the ability to start taking measures to prevent further damage and remedy the situation at hand.
The article was originally written by journalist Patrick Winn who is a senior Southeast Asia correspondent for GlobalPost. Published originally on PRI. To read more, click here