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