On the “burden of civilization’s excess” and 5gyres.org

Found via the website 5gyres.org, another disturbing photograph on plastic trash problems in the Philippines, taken last year after the floods related to Ondoy.

At first glance…the road?  No, it is a river of floating plastics and other debris. It is no wonder parts of our planet’s ocean are turning into plastic soup

Photo by Francis R. Malasig via 5gyres.org

Excerpt from the accompanying blog post by Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres, and words from Marcus Eriksen, Executive Director of 5gyres.org:

The people at the end of the road, that we sometimes forget exist, bear the burden of civilization’s excess. 

The developing world wants the affluence and convenience of the west, but the infrastructure for waste management does not exist. 

Our collective conscience cannot tolerate the synthetic chemistry of our industrial and technological advances to become the burden of our poorest communities or reside in the bodies of our children, yet today everyone carries this chemical legacy. 

The producers of plastics have an obligation to plan for the post-consumer life of their product, all the way to the end.  If you want to clean the 5 gyres in the ocean of plastic waste, then give your time and funds to those that clean up these watersheds, where plastic hurts people.  And more importantly, to those legislative advocates that prevent the proliferation of plastic pollution throughout society. 

To reach the people at the end of the road, we have to begin our work there and work backwards to ourselves.

Marcus Eriksen’s words — especially “the burden of civilization’s excess” — resonated with me.  And yes, of course…those from developing nations want what everyone else wants.

Sometimes, new plastic “stuff” replaced functional items used in the home…like those now ubiquitous stacking, plastic chairs, that have replaced native, local bamboo or woven rattan chairs.

It seemed convenient, and cheap…until we learned about the problems with plastic trash.  Then we realized, oh-oh…maybe it is not so good, if we consider the loss of income to the locals who use to build a lot more bamboo and rattan chairs, and indeed, as we find out the “true cost” of all this cheap plastic stuff.

We know that unlike bamboo and rattan chairs that biodegrades back to earth, there are not always collection systems for broken plastic chairs, broken buckets and planganas (basins for washing clothes), broken plastic totes, etc.

Where will this used or broken plastic trash end up…oh right, see photo above.

It is a problem indeed, with the ever growing population of the Philippines — now the 12th most populous on our planet, in need of even more stuff.   In an archipelago nation like the Philippines, uncontrolled trash is always just a few short breaths away from the sea, at the next big rainfall or during typhoon season.

How do we manage all this plastic garbage?  Do we get plastics manufacturers or those who import plastics to have a plan to dispose of plastic trash?  Should the manufacturers be required to take it back?

Can we consider a moratorium on plastics until a solution is found or at least, until the infrastructure is in place to deal with, and to recycle these items?

Unlike most communities in the Western world, many areas in the Philippines still do not have established waste management or recycling programs, so when that plastic chair breaks, it is just more trash — the scary kind of trash that sticks around for a very long time.

One way or another, this uncontrolled plastic trash already affects us.  When it ends up in one of the trash vortex, or when we eat seafood that have eaten bits of our plastic trash, or through the extinction of species directly related to our actions…or our failure to take action.

See Also – Lolako’s Category Archives: Philippine related environment and conservation topics

And post from March, 2014,  Chameleons? Why Filipinos live & work in just about every country in the world

Philippine plastic garbage problem

If this photograph from Joshua Mark Dalupang, published with the Guardian’s article “Tide of plastic bags that started wave of revulsion”  does not convince you about the plastics problems in the Philippines….well, I don’t know what else will.

Plastic pollution in Manila Bay, the Philippines. Other countries including South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and China have introduced bans on single-use plastic bags. Photograph: Joshua Mark Dalupang / EPA

It truly is sad — and at the same time revolting — to see this anywhere, let alone my dearly loved Philippines, especially that plastic bags are a preventable type of pollution.

Are there programs in place to address this…or at least projects in the works?  If you live in the Philippines, in Manila or other large cities with this problem (and solutions), please comment — and especially if you live in a city that has banned plastic bags.

Note: Plastics never fully biodegrade: the estimates above refer to the time it takes for plastics to break down into smaller pieces. Graphic from www.saveourshores.org

We really have to ask ourselves — is the convenience of single use plastic bags worthwhile, when we know the resulting pollution it creates?   We already know that it does not biodegrade fully — and as you can see from the above photo, rarely recycled.

What do you think happens to these plastic bags?   Where does the plastic end up?  In an ocean environment, these bags

  • will break down into smaller and smaller pieces
  • absorb other toxic substances
  • is ingested by wildlife and creatures living in our oceans (sea turtles mistake these bags as jellyfish and accidentally ingest the bags)
  • then enters the ocean wildlife food chain — including OUR food chain when we eat seafood

I posted an article titled Plastic Rich / Plastic Poor, after reading Susan Freinkel’s book, Plastic, A Toxic Love Story.  The book is about the history of plastic and our love of plastic products, and delves into — among other fascinating topics — the problem of plastic bags and plastic waste.

Related posts:

Francis-Malasig-photo-philippine plastic trash problemSee on the “burden of civilization’s excess” and 5gyres.org – for more on Philippine plastic trash problems, and on those now ubiquitous plastic stacking chairs adding to trash in the Philippines.  River of trash photo by Francis R. Malasig, via 5gyres.org

Resources and information on plastic bag bans at the end of my post “12 Minutes” (twelve minutes is the average use time of a plastic bag).

Link to article about Susan Freinkel’s book, Plastic, A Toxic Love Story and photographs of plastic packaging at a typical seaside market in the Philippines

Trash and plastics vortex now the size of Texas (about the North Pacific trash gyre)