The mainstream media has been bombarding Western countries with news about the need for a more circular economy and slow phasing out of plastic from our daily lives in order to protect the environment, focusing on the World’s oceans. But how much of that plastic pollution is actually the West’s fault?
It’s easy to see awareness campaigns about animals trapped in all sorts of trash and to then want to do something in order to prevent such a terrible thing from happening again. In the past few weeks, the mainstream media has been on a crusade against the horrors of plastic in developed nations, targeting everyday, easily dischargeable items such as plastic bags and plastic straws.
Are they preaching to the right audience though?
— IFLScience (@IFLScience) March 22, 2019
These distressing images are of great shock value, they create awareness for a major problem that affects all sorts of ecosystems and in this case, marine and sea life, but surprise, surprise, if they want this campaign to be effective, these slogans should be written in Mandarin, Hindi or any African language.
First of all, the disposal of waste in Western nations (and also other developed countries such as Japan or South Korea) is treated very differently than those in developing nations in continents such as Africa and Asia. Not even emerging nations such as India, China or Brazil recycle or treat their waste as much as their Western counterparts, with Brazil being the country who is doing a better jon of treating and recycling these sorts of dischargeable items.
This graph, although from 20 years ago, depicts a good image of how solid waste was and still is treated worldwide.
In 1998, few were the countries that cared or could afford to recycle their solid waste. As we can see, most of the waste being recycled was done in Western nations such as the US, Canada, European countries, Australia, New Zealand and a few East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea.
Recycling has evolved a lot in the last 15-20 years, but still, Western nations are at the forefront on the treatment and re-use of plastic, glass, card or paper, more so than any other Latin American, Asian or African country (Take into account that the graph only shows OECD countries).
In the graph below we can see the ten most polluting rivers on the planet. Two of them are in Africa: the Niger and Nile rivers. The other two in South Asia: the Indus and Ganges rivers. The remaining six are in East and Southeast Asia.
95% of the plastic polluting the World’s oceans comes from just these 10 rivers.
And finally, we finish up where we started, we already know that the ten most polluted rivers are in Africa and in Asia, but which countries are the ones who are actually polluting our oceans with plastic, thereby threatening ecosystems and sea life, the most?
Well, the answer is, above all, Asian countries, with China being by far the most polluting country on the planet, followed by Southeast Asia and Pacific countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and farther below, Thailand and Malaysia.
To finalise, although seeing turtles with straws up their noses or sea lions asphyxiating in plastic bags is sad, it is far from reality. Researchers came to the conclusion that what traps the most animals is actually fishing gear, lots and lots of fishing gear.
The data presented is clear, Third World nations are by far the ones who pollute the most our World Oceans due to bad infrastructure, not having facilities in order to treat their waste.
If you want to help animals not get trapped, pushing for policies that punish commercial fishermen who leave or dispose of nets and other gear in the water may be the way to go.