How is plastic pollution causing a health crisis in low-income developing countries?
Every 30 seconds, 30 double-decker busloads of plastic waste are burned or dumped in developing countries. Even with new regulations like the recent EU ban on plastic waste exports to low-income nations, the issue remains pervasive, especially in the maritime industry with the world's biggest ports of call being outside the EU.
With studies showing that only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, 12% has been incinerated and a staggering 79% has been accumulating in landfills or the natural environment, plastic pollution is creating an urgent public health emergency.
Each year, mismanaged waste in developing countries results in fatal disease for almost 1 million people. How?
Plastic waste can block waterways, causing flooding that can spread waterborne diseases. Waste pickers often try to help with collecting plastic blocking the passage of water, and end up being drowned when the river is in spate.
When openly burnt, plastic waste releases harmful pollutants that are proven to increase the risk of developing disease such as cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems and other health issues.
Plastic waste dumps not only create a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitos and flies, but also pollute the soil and water, and enter the food chain. One study found chicken eggs in an Indonesian village to contain toxic dioxins 70 times the level allowed by European safety standards.
Plastic can be seriously damaging and even fatal to animals consuming it, whether on land or at sea. Plastic pollution that negatively impacts agricultural and fishing livelihoods and sustenance, as well as those reliant on tourism, also comes at a massive economic cost, resulting in dire loss of revenue for fisheries, aquaculture and marine tourism industries.
The argument that plastic pollution is strictly related to the environmental degradation could not be further from the truth. People and the economy are also heavily impacted by this issue, and continuing to ignore it means a complete disregard for people, planet and profit.
Plastic pollution has a harmful impact on the majority of the sustainable development goals and it will not be possible to meet these goals without acknowledging this issue and doing something about it.
Collaboration is key and all economic players need to take important steps in tackling the global plastic crisis, and this includes producers, regulators, consumers and also businesses. At IMPA SAVE, we work with key actors in the maritime industry to push a low-waste culture and more sustainable solutions. Together, we are working towards kicking plastic drinking water bottles from onboard vessels by 2025. You can be part of the change with us. 7% of the global fleet is already engaged. Together, we can make it 100%.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Tearfund, WasteAid and the Institute of Development Studies, ‘No time to waste: Tackling the plastic pollution crisis before it’s too late’ (2019);
Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law, 'Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made' (19 Jul 2017);
IPEN, 'Plastic Waste Poisons Indonesia's Food Chain' (2019).