Every minute a truckload of plastic waste ends up in the ocean, which amounts to over 8 billion metric tons on a yearly basis. In effect, plastic has been found in 62% of all sea birds and in 100% of sea turtle species. Plastic pollution endangers marine wildlife and throughout the life cycle, have potentially negative consequences for human health as well.
Asian countries are major contributors to the ocean garbage problem, and that’s clearly visible in the everyday life here. There’s very little action on the policy-level to increase recycling and individual awareness or interest for environmental issues is minimal. In the grocery shops products are packed in excessive plastics and often still put into a separate plastic bags, which are anyways treated as free give-a-ways. Plastic spoons are given with purchases of yoghurt and ice cream, straws with any drinks. Packed in plastic of course. These items belong to the top items found in oceans; Ocean Conservancy’s international coastal cleanup operations have collected more than half a million straws and stirrers through their campaigns.
Last week a friend in Finland created a group with the mission to fight micro-plastic waste (here a great article on the topic) and to find feasible solutions and options for better recycling, re-usage and alternative materials. I’ve been following the discussions in the group with great interest as the members are professionals in variety of essential fields – including scientists, business representatives and policy-makers. Their knowledge and passion are bound to be creating lasting impact and I’ve got a surge of energy and ideas just from reading the discussion threads.
Simultaneously, I’ve been observing yet another Asian country literally drowning in trash. This past week I’ve been traveling through Sri Lanka for the first time, and been at awe at the natural beauty of the place. Unfortunately, the other side of the reality is that it’s being destroyed at a devastating speed. Waste in every imaginable form is lying around everywhere, from streets to canals to the world heritage sites and lastly to the beaches and ocean.
Still recovering from the devastating 26-year civil war and with wide-range social issues, I’m not blaming the population in general being rather ignorant and ill-aware of environmental protection. But frankly they have to learn, just as us all have to, if we are to tackle poverty and other developmental topics generally perceived to be higher on the agenda. These issues do go hand in hand. From agricultural production to tourism, the incomes of the developing countries depend on the nature, and they can’t afford piling up endless amounts of trash in oceans and on the lands.
Amidst the depressing sights of endless piles of garbage and sheer ignorance, I did also observe a shimmering of hope as well. One day on the way from Kandy to Habarana, our driver suddenly stopped the car to scold a guy he saw dumping waste to a road-side canal. He was extremely upset and we ended up having an interesting conversation with him about the common behaviour of tossing out garbage to the nature. It creates hope to have people like him speaking up and spreading awareness.
Coincidentally, we spent our last night in a hotel in Negombo that I noticed being very advanced in their green practices. At first my attention was caught by their shampoo and lotion bottles, which were made out of recycled and natural materials and re-filled, not intended at single use only. Then I took a sip of water from the bottle provided, which was made out of glass! The note on the neck said they reuse the bottles as part of their sustainability efforts (just imagine how many plastic water bottles they avoid!). The hotel also informed us that the waste water generated in their hotels is recycled and used in the gardens! Coffee beans and vegetables are sourced from local smallholder farmers that they support for increasing sustainable farming practices.
There is hope. We all do need to do our part, and no individual action should be underestimated. Everything from easy actions as saying no to
a straw and using canvas bags to more advanced zero-waste living principles should be welcomed and appreciated. Certainly the biggest impact is created on policy-making and -enforcement levels and by businesses, but in order to change the world for better every step matters. There are people everywhere who care, and we need to use their voices to encourage more action. We need to use our voices, collectively, to make louder noise. Together we can.