Yonah Ghermezian Discusses Ocean Plastic Polluting Countries
Ocean plastic pollution is one of the most important and ever-growing environmental concerns of our time. The US has been particularly active in cutting down its plastic waste with reforms targeting the reduction of plastic consumption. While plastic pollution is harmful to the environment, it is especially dangerous for the ecosystem and all marine life.
In our current throw-away society, plastic has become one of the most abundant materials on Earth. It's estimated that we produce 300 million tons of plastic each year - and a significant amount of that ends up in our oceans. This ocean plastic pollution is having devastating effects on marine life, costing the lives of an estimated 100,000 creatures each year. But it's not just animals that are affected by this problem; ocean plastic also contributes to climate change.
To effectively reduce ocean plastic pollution, significant resources and efforts need to be directed towards places where most of the plastic waste is produced and dumped in the ocean.
The Current Scenario
Academic research done in 2021 highlighted the countries contributing the most and the least to this problem. According to the study, the plastic being dumped in the ocean by Asian countries is equal to 81% of all the plastic waste found in the ocean. Breaking this number down, 36.4% comes from the Philippines, and plastic waste from India accounts for almost 13%. Most of this plastic waste ends up in the ocean from rivers that are connected to it. Around 1000 rivers in Asia account for 80% of the plastic that goes into the ocean. This trend was also observed in 2017 by researchers from the University of Georgia, who found that China and Indonesia were the main sources of single-use plastics being dumped in the ocean.
Their study revealed that both these countries account for 5 million tons of plastic waste that is dumped in the ocean annually. The US has reduced its amount of plastic waste and accounts for 0.2% in terms of plastic waste that is found in the ocean.
Causes of Excessive Ocean Plastic Pollution
The aforementioned research conducted in 2021 investigated which countries were most culpable with regards to ocean plastic pollution. It was found that countries with inefficient waste management and easy access to rivers that connect to the ocean are responsible for a significant amount of plastic waste in the ocean. Countries to which both scenarios apply are most likely to add to plastic pollution in the ocean.
Continents with the Highest and Lowest Ocean Plastic Pollution
Asia has the highest contribution at 81%. Most of the plastic waste that ends up in the ocean originates from there. This is due to weak waste management systems and the large number of rivers that connect to the ocean. Europe is doing much better at managing its plastic waste, with only 0.6% being attributed to it. This is likely the result of robust recycling and waste management systems in place. South America and North America come in at 5.5% and 4.5% respectively. While this is a bit on the higher side, and more can be done through better waste management, most plastics are going to be dumped in landfills.
Countries with the Highest Ocean Plastic Pollution
The Philippines is a major contributor to plastic waste found in the ocean at 36.4%. It has the highest number of rivers that carry plastic waste to the ocean. In comparison, developed countries have a much higher plastic production per capita, and most of it ends up being recycled or in landfills. Five Asian countries, including the Philippines, account for most of the plastic waste found in the ocean. Their combined share of all plastic waste stands at 69.8%. Other countries in the top 5 are India (12.9%), Malaysia (7.5%), China (7.2%), and Indonesia (5.8%).
It is worth noting that although developed countries don't account for most of the plastic waste found in oceans, they do have a higher rate of plastic production per person. The US has the highest plastic waste per capita in the world, with every American generating 286 pounds of plastic waste on average. However, since most of the US is landlocked, the majority of this plastic waste either ends up in the landfills or in recycling plants.
Developed Countries and Ocean Plastic Pollution
Most countries responsible for polluting the ocean with plastic are developing countries that cannot commit appropriate resources to their waste management systems. Bearing this in mind, developed countries are well-equipped to reduce ocean plastic pollution, so one has to wonder how they end up contributing to the problem.
Malaysia tops that list and accounts for 7.5% of all plastic waste in the ocean. Weak plastic waste management systems, rising per capita plastic production, and import of plastic from other countries are the reasons behind this figure. Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, the US, Japan, and the UK fare much better, with Turkey accounting for 1.5% and others less than 1%.
These countries manage to keep their plastic waste in check by exporting it to other countries. While this may appear to solve a problem, it creates another one as the countries they are exporting it to are often unable to handle it properly due to weak infrastructure and lack of resources.
The UK and Japan, being island nations, are uniquely positioned to help the Philippines with its plastic waste problem as most of it enters the ocean through its rivers. Plastic waste management systems designed with their expertise and input can significantly reduce the overall amount of plastic waste in the ocean.
How We Can Do More
Ocean pollution is a pressing problem that affects everyone and requires immediate solutions that are both effective and sustainable. Helping developing nations that are the main source of the problem is the way forward, and it can be done by doing the following:
- Follow the example of celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio. Through grants, public campaigns & media projects Leo has worked tirelessly in bringing attention to biodiversity protection ocean conservation climate change. “Leonardo doesn’t just talk about these issues but also takes action by working closely on how we can all play our part,” said Yonah Ghermezian.
- Divert resources towards helping them build better waste management systems that are more in line with those of developed countries.
- Stop the flow of plastic that's going into rivers. As 80% of the plastic waste in the ocean comes from rivers that connect to it, reducing this amount will significantly bring down the amount of plastic polluting the ocean.
- As individuals, we can donate to non-profit organizations working to clean up the ocean.
- Raise awareness about plastic pollution in our communities.