We must stop plastics pollution where it starts

opinion April 24, 2018 01:00

By Jed Alegado
Philippine Daily Inquirer 

Sunday saw the annual Earth Day to raise awareness on the issues and environmental threats faced by our planet.

This year’s focus was on ending plastics pollution by highlighting the root causes of the crisis and promoting the real solutions and policies needed to reverse this global problem.

Single-use plastics have grave ramifications for the environment. They pollute throughout their life cycle, beginning with extraction and refining and ending in their being dumped in oceans and waterways. In fact, low-income communities, particularly communities of colour, disproportionately face the impacts of corporate polluters’ quest for cheap and convenient products.

The magnitude of the plastics crisis extends to impacts on the livelihoods of fishing communities and disruptions in our food system. Experts have found that because of the amount of plastics entering marine bodies, the seafood and fish that we consume also eat plastics. A study published in 2015 which looked into the stomach contents of fish bought at public markets in California and Indonesia found that around one in four fish had consumed plastic particles.

In recent years, corporations have offered the methods of recycling, upcycling, and downcycling to curb plastics pollution. But these are neither viable nor sustainable solutions. Recycling is not enough. Companies must eliminate problematic products and reduce the amount of plastics they produce while offering alternative packaging and distribution systems to their consumers.

The demand for plastics is created by companies that refuse to take responsibility for the pollution and place liability on consumers. Research published by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives states: “Plastics producers are planning on flooding the markets with a massive scale-up over the coming decades, fuelled by cheap fossil fuel extraction like shale gas.”

Instead of heeding global calls for less plastic in the marketplace, the plastics industry is pushing false solutions such as burning. The industry champions such schemes as “waste to energy”, gasification, and pyrolysis as solutions to the problem. But these methods require ongoing extraction of resources as they fail to keep valuable materials in a circular economy. They have also been known to create harmful emissions like heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and greenhouse gases. Far from solving problems, burning plastics creates new ones.

The #breakfreefromplastic movement believes that decentralised, people-centred innovation is the solution to the pollution crisis. 

Our member-organisations, particularly in Asia, are implementing “zero waste” policies that achieve huge waste diversion from landfills, preventing waste from polluting our land and entering our waterways.

Curbing plastics pollution requires collective action and proactive collaboration among various sectors and stakeholders. Governments, corporations, and citizens have their respective roles to play in finding our way out of the plastics crisis. All too often, the industry’s response to the problem is to downgrade it to a mere waste management issue, and to require municipalities and citizens to bear the cost of dealing with the pollution created by plastics producers and consumer brands.

Without significantly reducing the amount of plastics produced, we cannot hope to stop pollution.

JED ALEGADO is the communications officer for Asia-Pacific of  Break Free from Plastic.