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Where Plastic Pollution Comes from

Is Exporting Trash the Problem?

August 2023

Script

About 1 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year.i

Where does it come from?

While 20%-30% comes from marine sources like fishing nets and lines, the rest is land-based waste that ends up in rivers and gets washed into the ocean.ii

But while many Western nations restrict the use of plastic in order to reduce this pollution, those countries aren’t the ones driving the problem.

Over 80% of the plastic that goes from land into the ocean comes from rivers in Asia.iii

In fact, 7 of the 10 rivers responsible for the most plastic pollution are located in the Philippines.iv

Critics have long argued that countries like the U.S. are still responsible, however, because we export our trash to the countries that mismanage it.

Recent research, however, suggests that’s not much of a factor — because most plastic waste isn’t exported.

In fact, 98% of the world’s plastic waste is disposed of in the country in which it’s generated.v

And it’s estimated that only around 5% of the plastic waste in the ocean is the result of plastic exported from rich countries to poor ones.vi

So, while exporting less of our waste could help a little, the biggest step we can take to prevent plastic pollution is improving waste management systems in the countries causing the problem ... which seems like a small price to pay to finally be done with paper straws.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. Over 80% of the plastic that goes from land into the ocean comes from rivers in Asia.
  2. Just around 5% of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean comes from trash exported from rich countries.
  3. The single most important step towards reducing plastic pollution is improving waste management in poor nations.

Sources

Shownotes

SOUND: "Silk Skies" (Sunny Kang) 

FOOTAGE: MelkiNimages (Getty) // CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION. 

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