Much of the problem, she says, is those little disposable plastic bags of fish and groceries, and the demise of the “replenishment system”: “When I was a kid, I went to the store and brought my bottle and [buy] maybe five or 10 [Philippine] peso [cooking] oil. This has been the traditional way in most cultures of the region.
“Everything changed when bags and disposable plastic appeared.”
But this is not the worst.
The world system
About 1.8 billion tons of garbage are produced annually in the world. According to one reportif all this were put on dump trucks, the line would fly around the planet 24 times.
About one tenth this garbage enters the world waste trade. This, in essence, means that rich countries send their waste to less developed economies, such as Southeast Asia.
Around 12 percent of municipal waste formed in the US plastic, which is 32.4 million tons in 2018. Countries such as the United States, Canada and South Korea are among the leaders in waste exports. In 2018, the U.S. shipped on average 429 large containers only plastic waste every day.
Since China has banned waste imports since 2017, much of this garbage now ends up in Africa and Asia. As these countries are often poorly equipped to combat the influx – in Southeast Asia, 75 percent of it is not recycled – this means that most of it falls into waterways or oceans, either through direct discharge or simply washed away by rain.
This was reported by Greenpeace an increase of 171 percent to nearly 2.25 million tons per year of plastic waste imported by Southeast Asian countries between 2016 and 2018.
To this large plastic waste add a tsunami of plastic caused by measures to combat COVID-19 worldwide from early 2020. In the early stages of an outbreak, reported one NGO the world has already had 1.5 billion plastic-based surgical masks. By 2021, an additional 140 million used test kits, 144,000 syringes and packages of 8 billion vaccine doses had been created when governments sought to stop the virus.
The pandemic has also shut down many Asian waste businesses, ensuring that even if plastic continues to come in, facilities are not working and workers are stuck at home. Invariably waste is thrown away, often illegally through turbidity waste trade channels.
A new deal?
At the entrance to the fifth session The UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, in February had an unusually powerful sculpture by Canadian artist Benjamin von Wong: a faucet suspended in the sky spews a stream of plastic debris onto the grass in front of the yard.
Perhaps this had some effect, because the meeting ended with a major resolution to stop all plastic pollution by 2024.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the statement said the agreement between 175 member states is “the most important environmental deal since the Paris Climate Agreement”.
Susan Gardner, director of UNEP’s ecosystems division, said: “Countries have said, ‘We want to do something with plastic, and it’s urgent.’ We take it so seriously that we believe that something is legally binding. “
Gardner referred to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which took about five years to launch in 2017. “In this case, the member states are so determined … that they want to do it in about half the time. This ambition, both in essence and in pace, is unprecedented. “
Big money is lagging behind
But even a firm UN agreement may not be enough.
The A large Pacific garbage spot tracked since the 1980s and covers more than 1.55 million square kilometers – more than twice as much as Texas. In 2016 was predicted it will take until 2050 for plastic in the oceans to dominate marine life. Now, it seems we could get to this decade.
One can imagine that countries could stick to their own measurements under the UN convention by dumping the problem of plastic waste into the oceans.
With this in mind, Aguilar notes that the regional process is being conducted through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This led to Bangkok Declarationissued in 2019.
But Aguilar says the agreement is “not looking at cuts, not looking at the source. So it was problematic; more medicine than prevention ”.
This source has a name. Or rather, he has about a hundred names corporations are largely responsible for the production of disposable plastic.
According to the Australian NGO Minderoo Foundation, about 60 percent of the total investment in these companies comes from only 20 major banks such as Barclays, HSBC and Bank of America.
Organization reported in 2021 that “20 asset managers – led by the American companies Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Capital Group – own shares worth more than $ 300 billion in the parent companies of single-use plastic polymer manufacturers.
“Of these, $ 10 billion is directly related to the production of disposable polymers.”
According to Minderoo, a significant investor in this sector is the Vanguard Group, based in Pennsylvania. The asset manager invests in a number of the world’s 10 leading plastics manufacturers.
In an email, a Vanguard spokesman said: “Regardless of the industry, we expect companies to take into account government policies, commitments and regulation in their strategies and plans, especially if the policy … leads to significant impact.”
A Company report for 2021 notes that the investor met with 734 companies in 29 industries as part of its management program. Participation categories are based on management and material risk. There is no mention of plastic in the report, although four of the top 10 plastics manufacturers (including both U.S. companies in the group, ExxonMobil and Dow) were met.
Given that most of these companies are transnational conglomerates, and given the listed categories of asset manager involvement, it is unlikely that the issue of plastic pollution will be addressed by any of these official meetings. Based on this, as international and regional organizations seem to be becoming more and more ambitious in reducing plastic pollution of oceans and elsewhere, the corporate sector seems to be lagging behind.
Gardner of UNEP notes that in line with current trends, we will double the already giant plastic footprint “in the next decade or so”: “This problem has been caused by the way we use plastic.”
She adds that the solution “requires systemic change throughout the value chain.” This almost certainly means increasing pressure on plastics manufacturers in the coming years.
JJ Rose is an Australian author and an exciting body surfer.