The persistent plastic problem

In environmental circles, plastic waste is a much-talked about issue, but a recent beach clean-up in the Philippines revealed big businesses have to play a bigger role in cutting down on the ubiquitous packaging.

Plastic facts are staggering. There's the one about the 500 billion plastic bags used — for an average of just fifteen minutes — around the world every year, the one that declares it takes an average of 500 years for a plastic bottle to biodegrade, the one that says enough plastic is thrown away annually to circle the world four times.

Nature and Environment | 06.11.2017

And then there's the mind-boggling nugget of information that tells us we now dump more than eight million tons of the oil-based material into our oceans every year, thereby inadvertently lining our stomachs with tiny particles of the very wrappings conceived to protect our food — and thereby our health.

Read: Is marine plastic pollution a threat to human health? 

The irony is as screeching as it is bitter. Not least for the marine life and eco-systems that have no choice but to try and thrive alongside the trash.

Nature and Environment | 01.03.2018

Time for big-scale solutions

And though countless small-scale and innovative upcycling, collection and recycling ventures have emerged in a bid to help solve the problem, it seems unlikely that their efforts, even combined, will be forceful enough to turn the tides. 

Infografik Karte Woher kommt der Plastikmüll in den Weltmeeren? ENG

A recent waste audit conducted by Greenpeace Philippines and#breakfreefromplastic across a 30 hectare area in plastic polluted Manila Bay highlighted the place of cheap and easy but environmentally damaging packaging.

Having analyzed the branding on a total of 54,260 items of waste, the environmental groups involved in the audit revealed the majority to be Nestlé, Unilever, and Indonesia's PT Torabika Mayora products. The trash collected included footwear, single-use plastic bags, bottles and straws, but the biggest offender were sachets.

Audios and videos on the topic

Mikroplastik
01:31 mins.
Environment | 07.09.2017

Addicted to plastic

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

Sachet economy

BdW Global Ideas Philippinen Umweltverschmutzung in Obando

The Philippines, which according to the Ocean Conservancy is the third largest plastic polluter after China and Indonesia, has a lively "sachet economy", so-called because people with limited incomes are encouraged to buy single-use small quantity sachets of food and toiletries.

Typically made from thin layers of plastic and aluminum, they are of little recycling and therefore monetary value, so are left untouched by waste pickers. The fact that they litter landscapes, waterways and the ocean, does not prevent people from buying them.

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Read: Six data visualizations that explain the plastic problem

Greenpeace is among those calling on companies such as Nestlé and Unilever to think  innovatively in terms of packaging. Whether or not they will, when their existing products are so readily consumed, is debatable. What is not, however, that it is time to tackle this problem from the top.

Health

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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