Multinationals polluting oceans with plastic in the Philippines

Plastic washed up on Manila's beaches can be traced back to Western brands in cashing on Asia's "sachet economies," activists say.

Styrofoam packaging, discarded flip-flops, plastic bags, straws - and lots of tiny packets that once contained single-servings of everything from shampoo to food.

Nature and Environment | 24.07.2017

Environmental activists say the items they found auditing plastic trash washed up in Manila Bay in the Philippines show multinational brands profiting from growing Asian economies at the expense of the environment.

The audit was done by volunteers with Greenpeace Philippines and the #breakfreefromplastic movement. They say the Philippines is one of the  worst polluters of the world's oceans, and blame companies like Nestlé, Unilever, and Indonesian company PT Torabika Mayora for the problem.

Philippinen Putzaktion auf der Freedom-Insel und Markenprüfung

Volunteers pic up trash on Freedom Island in Manila Bay

"These corporations are the missing piece in the global fight against plastic pollution," Abigail Aguilar of Greenpeace Philippines said in a press release. "Citizens are burdened with the social and environmental impacts of plastic waste, rather than those that are responsible."

Nature and Environment | 26.07.2017

The audit turned up more Nestlé packaging than that of any other brand - at 9,000 pieces.

Philippinen Putzaktion auf der Freedom-Insel und Markenprüfung

The island is an ecotourism location where mangrove swaps provide a habitat for migrating birds

A McKinsey study published in 2015 ranked the Philippines as the third worst plastic polluter of the world's oceans, behind China and Indonesia. Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia also made it into the top 10. 

Greenpeace says that with growing economies, "new-found spending power" in these countries has led to "exploding demand for consumer products that has not yet been met with a commensurate waste-management infrastructure."

Companies are reaching these markets with products packaged in affordable single-use sachets that end up scattered as litter, and ultimately as landfill or marine pollution, Greenpeace says.

Philippinen Putzaktion auf der Freedom-Insel und Markenprüfung

Volunteers sort through the waste to identify the companies behind the plastic packaging

The organization is calling on companies to rethink their approach to marketing and distributing their goods.

"They could for instance practice extended producer responsibility where companies substitute non-reusable and non-recyclable products with new systems, such as refillables - prevention instead of end-of-pipe waste management," Aguilar said.

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"In the long term they'll see this will yield strong environmental and economic benefits," she added.

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Profiting from waste

Garbage collectors sort through reusable materials at the Dandora landfill site on the outskirts of Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

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Garbage as far as the eye can see

Dandora is the main dumping ground in Nairobi. Many people make their livelihoods out of scavenging what others have thrown away.

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A heavy load

The garbage collectors are paid by weight. There are fixed prices per kilo for glass, metal and plastic. On a good day a collector can earn approximately 3 euros.

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A feast for the birds

Most of the garbage consists of plastic, including countless shopping bags. But wildlife also make the most of the organic waste which can also be found in Dandora: these Marabou storks find plenty to eat here.

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Our food eats our garbage

These cows also feed on the organic waste which can be found amongst the plastic.

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From the dump to the slaughterhouse

Some of the cows, which had been grazing on the waste in Dandora, later find themselves in the slaughterhouse.

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Return of the plastic

But bits of plastic can be found in the stomachs of these cows which are intended for human consumption. It is hoped that the ban on plastic bags will help reduce dangerous health and environmental impacts like this.

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