There are around two billion people living in developing countries without access to proper waste collection. Globally, that’s one in four of us. Without the systems to manage and dispose of waste, these people are left with no option but to burn their rubbish or dump it. In the poorest countries, about 93 per cent of waste is burned or discarded in roads, open land or waterways.
Plastic has traditionally made up only a small part of the total waste generated in these sorts of places, but the expansion of the plastic-dominated supply chain and packaging model throughout the world is changing things fast. Some studies suggest that, by weight, plastic makes up between 10 and 20 per cent of municipal solid waste in low- and middle-income countries. Given that plastic is relatively lightweight, this figure suggests that the actual volume of plastic amongst total waste is very high.
With global plastic production projected to double over the next 10 to 15 years – and growing fastest in the countries least resourced to deal with it – plastic waste is playing a significant part in an even bigger waste crisis: escalating volumes of waste compounded by inadequate or non-existent systems to manage it.
That’s the situation in the slum communities of Mumbai, where Tearfund’s partner Saahasee works. Read more here about the impact this is having.
The impacts of this plastic pollution crisis are alarming. New research suggests that between 400,000 and one million people die each year in developing countries because of diseases related to mismanaged waste. At the upper end, that’s one person every 30 seconds.
Plastic pollution is hampering the efforts of people living in our world’s poorest places to overcome the challenges of poverty and lead lives of flourishing. Here are five reasons, drawn from Tearfund’s No Time to Waste report that outline why beating poverty means we need to tackle this rubbish problem.
Plastic pollution is creating what has been described as a “public health emergency”. Some of the many ways plastic pollution harms people’s health and increases the burden of death and disease include:
Another alarming consequence of plastic pollution that we are yet to fully understand is the introduction of microplastics into the food chain. Millions of tonnes of mismanaged post-consumer plastic waste enter our oceans every year and an estimated one third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or freshwater. It then begins the long process of disintegrating into smaller and smaller pieces. As well as the environmental destruction and threat to ecosystems and biodiversity this causes, the resulting microplastics can be easily mistaken for food and ingested by animals. The “breaking down” process can also release harmful chemicals into the surrounding environment, contaminating the food and water supplies for the people and animals who live there.
Plastic pollution is notorious for blocking waterways and drains. As well as contributing to disease outbreaks and being a cause of death by drowning, this can also result in significant damage to people’s homes and other property. These sorts of floods are not rare events. In a recent survey by UK NGO Wasteaid, 90 per cent of development practitioners said that waste had caused flooding in their area over the previous two years.
Plastic pollution has a direct impact on our ability to meet the global goal to end poverty. That’s why we’re asking you to join thousands of people around the world and take action to end plastic pollution. Over the next two years, nearly 200 governments are meeting to develop the first-ever international agreement on plastic pollution. But it’s not a done deal. Add your voice to call for an end to plastic pollution and its impacts on people living in poverty, by signing our Rubbish Petition.