Can we blame Asia for plastic pollution?

Dhruv Boruah
Aug 24, 2018 · 3 min read

I think we have to THANK ASIA, Here are my thoughts on how I got there?

Firstly, the widely quoted information 10 rivers are carrying 90% of the plastic entering the oceans and eight of them are in Asia and two in Africa is WRONG. The original source report from Chartered Institution of Wastes Management can be found here:

Mismanaged municipal solid wastes in developing countries especially in Asia probably accounts for 50–70% by weight of plastics entering the oceans. They are consuming a lot more and not doing a good job at managing their waste. So surely, they are to blame right?

Let us give it a little more thought before we jump to the decision!

  1. Firstly we know that Asian countries are polluting and they are not dealing with the waste properly
  2. China has banned low-quality waste imports this year after the dangers were exposed by the documentary Plastic China
  3. We have found (at least in the UK) alternative markets to export out waste since we neither have the infrastructure to deal with the amount of waste it the UK nor have a market for recycled goods. It is cheaper to export our waste that recycling. Once the waste leaves the UK, it is marked recycled and we have great recycling statistics
  4. Since there is a demand from markets like Thailand, Vietnam, India etc; we are now exporting out waste to these countries. Basic economics and the businesses have to survive
  5. But wait a minute, Did not we know already that these Asian countries are already polluting the Ocean?
  6. But we have to export the waste since we do not have a waste management infrastructure in the UK?
  7. Hmm, if we in the UK do not have a great waste management infrastructure, why are we expecting Asian countries to have a great waste management infrastructure and deal with our waste?
  8. Oh, by the way, they are already polluting their rivers & ocean with their waste
  9. So what will they do? They will have to put our waste to landfill or to the rivers. It is a matter of time before Wind, Rain and Other Acts of God will just get the plastic from the landfill to the river.
  10. What happens next? The plastic in the river will naturally flow to the Ocean and the plastic waste will end up in the British shores before we know it.
  11. Is it worth blaming Asian countries now? Also remember, we are selling things to these markets in small sachets knowing they have no system to dispose of the waste?
  12. So whats the solution? I think the British Government has to a) invest in helping the British Recycling Industry innovate and b) help build a market for recycled products, because without these it will be cheaper to export our waste to Asia today, then to Africa, next to even hide our waste in the deep Ocean Floor.
  13. I actually believe we have TO THANK CHINA for bringing this huge problem to the front line in front of the public and in the political agenda
  14. THE DAY WE STOP EXPORTING our waste, we would have solved all our issues. Since then we would have innovated in the recycling sector; consumed less, reusing more; innovated in design, production, consumption and disposal behaviour and very close to a circular economy keeping all the valuable materials in the economy.
  15. Ahh, before I forget; we have to design a system that not only reduces waste but also design the toxic chemicals.

By the way I am frustrated discussing the problems and we need to start looking at solutions to solve this crisis. Let me know what you think about my TEDx talk about finding & backing solutions — “What can we do besides avoiding plastic straws & bottles?

Talk Link:


Update: The Statement “We all know that just 10 rivers are carrying 90% of the plastic entering the oceans” has been corrected on 25th August after I was informed that the report from WEF had errors. The article is now updated with data from the original report from Chartered Institution of Wastes Management

Originally published at Dhruv Boruah.

Dhruv Boruah

Written by

Campaigner/ Investor — Plastic & Circular Economy; Adventurer, Innovator

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