3 Reasons Why Plastic Pollution Is an Environmental Justice Issue
By Kaitlin Grable
Turtles, seabirds, seals, and whales are well-documented victims of plastic pollution — but when was the last time you saw a video of a person suffering in the grips of the global plastics crisis?
You'd be forgiven if you believed humans were somehow immune to this tragedy, as their stories are so rarely shared. Our social media feeds are rightfully overflowing (at least mine is) with videos of turtles with straws jammed in their nostrils or photos of dead birds and whales with single-use plastics in their stomach. This coverage is heart-wrenching, and essential, but it fails to tell the whole story of the plastic pollution crisis.
Both around the world and in our own country, waste often flows into the communities without the money or government support to protect themselves. We need to wake up to the fact that plastic pollution is a environmental justice issue.
A new research collaboration between Greenpeace East Asia and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) has detailed the flow of "recyclable" plastics around the world and its impact on people. Their research makes it clear that plastic pollution is an environmental justice in itself, here's why…
Piles of plastic in Malaysia.
Nandakumar S. Haridas / Greenpeace
1. Plastic waste floods into the countries that aren’t prepared to stop it — or manage it.
At the beginning of 2018, China stopped accepting the world's waste including plastic, paper, and textile. Previously, Chinese recyclers had accepted recycled plastic waste from the world's top exporters — USA, UK, Germany, and Japan, to feed the country's demand for materials. All of that practically stopped in 2018, and waste started to flood into Southeast Asia.
First, it went to Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, who all set up restrictions to limit the plastic waste from coming in. Once they had some success in slowing down the flow, it went to the next victim: most noticeably Indonesia.
GAIA investigated the impact of the plastics waste flowing into these communities, where it found waste piled ten feet high, crops poisoned, and open plastic burning, which seriously affects people living nearby, as toxic gases release into the air while plastic burns.
Global Anti Incineration Alliance Philippines Executive Director Froilan Grate shows a discarded pack of a Nestle product as he stands on a trash-filled shoreline along Manila Bay in Navotas City, Philippines.
2. When they don’t manage to export the plastic waste, it ends up in vulnerable communities.
Not knowing where to export plastics to, many exporting countries in North America and Europe have watched the waste pile up at home. News reports have shown that it piles up in less-wealthy, more at-risk communities. There, it becomes a public health problem. The recycling system only works to target the vulnerable — around the world and around your city.
Ms. Christine Ponce Garcia, Corporate Affairs Executive of Nestle Philippines (Middle) receives a demand letter and "invoice from the Filipino people" outlining the costs of Nestlé's single-use plastic packaging.
Basilio H. Sepe / Greenpeace
3. Plastics are produced for private wealth.
Corporations like Nestlé and Unilever profit wildly from single-use plastic packaging, while peddling the myth of recycling as a solution. But anyone who has thought seriously about the issue can see that recycling could never handle the amount of plastic surrounding our everyday life. Also, don't forget that plastic is itself created from fossil fuels and lobbied for by the fossil fuel industry, while they desperately try to maintain the single-use plastic status quo instead of tackling the problem at source. Only by stopping the production of single-use plastics can this crisis be addressed. But these companies try to keep you in the dark by claiming recycling can solve the plastic pollution crisis to ensure their profit at the expense of people right now, today.
Greenpeace Malaysia has been conducting a field investigation on the broken system of recycling and how it impacts Malaysian society.
Nandakumar S. Haridas / Greenpeace
Kaitlin Grable is the social media associate for Greenpeace USA. She is currently based out of Durham, North Carolina on Catawba territory. You can peep her on Instagram @AroundTheWorldInKatyDays.
- Redwoods are the world's tallest trees.
- Now scientists have discovered they are even bigger than we thought.
- Using laser technology they map the 80-meter giants.
- Trees are a key plank in the fight against climate change.
They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
Pixabay<p>Although <a href="https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1420/files/original/Deforestation_fronts_-_drivers_and_responses_in_a_changing_world_-_full_report_%281%29.pdf?1610810475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rate of loss is reported to have slowed in recent years</a>, reforesting the world to help stem climate change is a massive task.</p><p><span>That's why the World Economic Forum launched the Trillion Trees Challenge (</span><a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a><span>) and is engaging organizations and individuals across the globe through its </span><a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-issue/a002o00000vOf09AAC/trillion-trees" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform</a><span> to support the project.</span></p><p>That's backed up by research led by ETH Zurich/Crowther Lab showing there's potential to restore tree coverage across 2.2 billion acres of degraded land.</p><p>"Forests are critical to the health of the planet," according to <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a>. "They sequester carbon, regulate global temperatures and freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers."</p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Reposted with permission from the </em><span><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor"><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/redwoods-store-more-co2-and-are-more-enormous-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></span></p>
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