The highest densities of plastic pollution on earth are found in the Pacific
Given that the highest densities of plastic pollution on earth are found in the Pacific, with serious consequences for wildlife, ecosystems, economies, and human health, it is an urgent problem requiring both local and international efforts.
Thirteen million tonnes of garbage enter our oceans every year and 5 trillion plastic bags are used annually worldwide every year.
Plastic pollution is posing a serious threat on human and environmental health, biodiversity, and marine resources in Fiji and the Pacific. This threat arises from the mismanagement of plastic refuse and continues to grow along our increasing dependence on plastic products. In the marine ecosystems, plastics makes up approximately 80 percent of all marine pollution. If we continue with ‘business-as-usual’, it is estimated that there will be more plastic pollution in the ocean than fish by 2050 as alluded to by environmentalist Ellen MacArthur at the January 2016 World Economic Forum.
To think that these are only a couple of the countless alarming figures depicting the seriousness of the plastics crisis at hand is indeed worrying, especially for the Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Much like climate change, Pacific SIDS contribute very little to the plastics crisis but face the large-scale brunt of its negative impacts. To fully grasp the magnitude of the problem, one only needs to refer to the Henderson Island scenario - a remote, isolated, uninhabited island in the South Pacific that has become the most polluted island in the world, simply due to the transboundary movement of plastics pollution through ocean currents.
Another example, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean is bounded by a system of four ocean currents which trap plastics in its center.
A plastic water bottle discarded off the coast of California, for instance, takes the California Current south toward Mexico. There, it may catch the North Equatorial Current, which crosses the vast Pacific. Near the coast of Japan, the bottle may travel north on the powerful Kuroshiro Current. Finally, the bottle travels eastward on the North Pacific Current. The gently rolling vortexes of the Eastern and Western Garbage Patches gradually draw in the bottle.
While a plastic pollution-free future of Fiji and the Pacific may sound ambitious, it is not impossible, but we must be realistic in terms of interventions and understand that we cannot simply recycle our way out of this crisis. We must take a step back from focusing so closely on plastics end-of-life stage and look at the bigger picture, and that is - the entire plastics value chain, particulary, re-engineering our production and consumption process to reduce its use. The least plastics used; the less plastic waste is generated. However, it seems the current discourse is much more focused on recycling only.
From its production to its manufacture, utilization and management, interventions in the plastics value chain will need to come at all stages of the value chain if we are to truly curb the plastics crisis. There is no single solution to a challenge as complex as this and the urgency to move to a more circular economy for plastics has never been more evident. We can no longer continue to sustain the current take-make-waste model where unnecessary single-use plastics have become a staple in our daily lives.
Innovative approaches are crucial to redesigning the way plastics are produced and used, to ensure they continue to flow through the economy in a closed loop, rather than becoming plastic waste. Furthermore, we have yet to explore and see large scale participation from corporate sector to produce and inject bio-degradable alternatives at competitive prices. Unless this is done, it will be impossible to reduce plastic pollution given that a large proportion of the Pacific population originate from low-income households and are highly price sensitive.
Behavioral change, policies, technology, institutions, business models, and innovation are identified as key focus areas and core drivers that will help to push and catalyze this transition to plastics circularity.
text credits: Andrea Egan, Mahendra Reddy, National Geographic
Photo or video credit: Andrea Egan, Biu Kacimaiwai, Uto Ni Yalo Trust, National Geographic
Text Credit: Andrea Egan
Date : 29 June 2023